SERENDIPITY’S 2013 YEAR IN REVIEW – FROM WORDPRESS

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. It always amuses me that my most popular post — for two years in a row — was that article on the 2012-2013 première episode of Criminal Minds. But my analysis shows that though they don’t get viral numbers, other pieces have done well — and have had a surprisingly long shelf life, with people searching them out and reading them long after initial publication. It’s been a fun 22 months with Serendipity. Now, with Rich Paschall aboard and maybe about to have a little more written input from our own Garry Armstrong, we’ll be even better in 2014.

Hope you’ve having a great New Year … and keep having it for years to come.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 78,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

 

THE FBI CAN’T DO A SIMPLE GOOGLE SEARCH? THE REBLOG

Marilyn Armstrong:

You know, with all of that …. they never did credit the group or finish the plot they started on that premier episode in 2012. They seem to have just abandoned it with no resolution. Anyone think they’ll ever come back to it?

Originally posted on SERENDIPITY:

On Criminal Minds in the première episode for the 2012-2013 season, the “perp” sews a victims mouth shut but in his mouth leaves the message “Gazing through to the other side.” The BAU FBI team cannot find any reference to this quote. So I typed it into Google and hit Enter. Guess what?

It’s part of a song, the lyrics to which essentially are the plot of the episode in which the first four victims are women, thrown into ditches, with their mouths sewn shut.

If I can find this in one hit on Google, is the FBI less capable than I? Unable to do the most basic Google search? There isn’t anything more basic than typing in what you want to know about then hitting Enter, is there? My granddaughter could do this kind of search before she was in first grade.

If anyone thinks I believe the…

View original 937 more words

Getting hits for being relevant

If you’ve ever worked as a reporter — or any kind of researcher — the instinct to follow a story persists. Sometimes, it pays off. For me, the turning point of this blog was when I got thousands of hits on a reblog about hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

November 2012 was something of a super month for bloggers. Between the presidential election and Hurricane Sandy, activity on the Internet was much greater than usual. Even people who were normally not especially interested were hopping online to follow current stories.

The thing was, the article that started bringing in all those hits was a reblog, or more accurately, a scoop. Anyone could have as easily read the same article on its original site. I was not at the top of a Google search. I tried using the phrase everyone else was using and Serendipity didn’t come up. At all. So people were seeking me out. Rather than reading the original article, they came to my site. Even giving me a point or two for attractive presentation, there were more than enough stories on the same subject all over the Internet. I’m not being modest. I wanted to know: why me?

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

I decided to analyze what I did better or differently than others. I looked at the total content for days when my numbers were very high. I realized all involved current events that were unusually high-profile. My best days involved Hurricane Sandy (November 2012), the blizzard Nemo (February 2013) and the days leading up to and immediately following the storms. Also the beginning of the new television season, the Oscars (before, after and during) and (of course) the election. And sadly, the bombing at the Boston Marathon (April 2013). Plus every time they play the première episode of Criminal Minds.

When major events occur, I write about them. Not one story, but a series of posts. I start with an article that covers the main story, then add to it. If the initial story was reblogged — often the case — I add graphics and photographs. I add commentary and analysis. My additions are typically longer and more detailed than the original. I don’t alter the original author’s text and I always give credit, but I build on it.

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

In this case, the original post was a reblogged (using ScoopIt) standalone post. Using it as a jumping off point, I followed a trail. I gathered pictures, stories about hurricanes and other storms. I wrote about them from my perspective, if I remembered them. Then, I asked Garry — my personal treasure trove of first-hand experiences — to talk about his experiences during the Blizzard of 1978 and other storms.

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1988

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1888

I roamed the web to see what was happening in various places being hit by the storm. Although I focused on Sandy and it’s impact on Coney Island, I discovered many other places along the coast which were equally affected. I posted what news I could gather about these areas.

I kept gathering and adding information, especially photographs, historical background and apocryphal stories. I just did what I always do when something interests me. I get into “bloodhound mode” and I followed the scent. The circles kept getting wider and including more locations, more events.

I eventually included stories not directly related to Sandy but which were thematically related. Other monster storms have paralyzed the Atlantic coast, some relatively recently. I love history so it was fun digging up historical information. Research can keep me glued to the computer for very long stretches. It’s how I learn.

I googled “hurricanes past 100 years East Coast” and could have filled an encyclopedia with the results. Research became stories. I hunted down historical photographs. I remembered stories I heard from relatives and friends about storms. My husband covered every storm to hit New England for more than 30 years, so he is a nearly bottomless repository of great first person experience.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

I ultimately produced a series of stories over almost a week.  News, mood  and background stories, data, photographs. I stitched them together. Each post was separate, but they formed a continuity. One thing led to another. When I thought about this storm, I remembered other storms, wrote about the storm that hit on my birthday in 1888 … and I offered facts, stories, and historical background, sidebars, and photographs.

The combination worked. Folks came to read one story and stayed to read many more. Some of them signed on as followers. It turned out that I didn’t have such a huge volume of visitors, but everyone who did visit stayed and read as many as five or six stories. A lot of hits.

Since then, I have more visitors on a regular basis and most of them read at least two or more stories. It’s not complicated:

  1. Be current. Don’t ignore major events. You don’t even have to write the stories yourself. Which brings me to the next point.
  2. If you don’t like WordPress’s reblog format, try ScoopIt. It seems a waste of time to write an essentially identical story when someone else has already done a great job writing it. Being relevant doesn’t mean you have to write it, but at least include it by reference.
  3. When something signficant or interesting is going on in our world whether it’s a national election, a hurricane, tsunami, the new television season or the upcoming Oscars, pay attention. You don’t have to write about just that subject, but maybe you shouldn’t completely ignore it either.
  4. It’s fine to march to the beat of your own drum, but it’s good to also pay attention to what the rest of the band is playing. If you march alone most of the time, occasionally it’s not a bad idea to join the chorus … or sing counterpoint.
  5. If you can’t be relevant because there are no big stories, be entertaining. Use those lemons to make delicious lemonade.
  6. Include lots of photographs.

Ivory towers can lonely. If you want company, you need to associate with the rest of the world and pay at least some attention to what interests them. If you write entirely for yourself, it’s a diary, not a blog.

85,000. What it means. What it doesn’t.

To put this into perspective, my “about” page and five top posts account for around 35,000 hits. “The Me Page” alone has gotten more than 12,000 hits.

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Still, the cumulative effect is that a lot of people have visited this little blog of mine, for whatever reason and it’s a bit humbling to realize that’s the number of people in a pretty big town, more than a packed crowd in Yankee Stadium. I know there are people out there whose statistics put them into the hundreds of thousands. What’s weird is I see if I don’t quit, I’ll get there too. Not tomorrow, unless something I write goes viral (unlikely) … but I’ll get there. Because every day, I get around 200 hits, unless the première show for the 2012-2013 season of Criminal Minds is playing — in which case I get closer to 1000 hits (that’s how I know the show is airing).

I am writing this before I quite hit the 85,000 mark. At this moment in time, I’m at 84,958, so I’ll cross that bridge tomorrow. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it ought to be more than 85,000. I’m probably jinxing myself.

Number of posts? Closer to 1500, but I deleted several hundred and I’ll probably have to do it again to keep the website from collapsing under the weight of too many posts. I’ve been a busy writer. Meanwhile, I’m beginning to rerun posts because — hey — I think they’re pretty good and worth running again.

The ups and down of statistics can produce a lot of anxiety, so … you gotta have faith. I don’t just look at raw numbers because they are only a part of the puzzle. I don’t have more visitors or even as many as I did — the total number of visitors is down considerably from the peak last fall. It was the election and the Internet was a wild and crazy place. Yet the overall hit count has remained reasonably steady because guests spend more time on my site, read more posts, look at more pictures. The average number of posts hit per visit is greater than 2, sometimes a lot more. That tells me I’m doing something right.

It tells me I’m writing more interesting stories, posting better pictures. This matters to me far more than raw numbers. To know you come and stick around, enjoy my work enough to read more than a one post makes me feel pretty good.

The numbers of followers I’ve got has topped 400 from WordPress. I’ve got a bunch more from Twitter and Tumblr, maybe a couple of dozen from Facebook (not quite as many as WordPress counts them). A year ago I couldn’t even imagine so many followers.

Followers get  emails. Many people read posts in email and don’t bother to visit the website. It’s a peril of email notification. If you can read it in email, there’s no incentive to go to the main site since the emails contains 90% (or more) of the post. It’s a trade-off. Followers are good to have, even if they only read the email. Honestly, I don’t care if they read my posts on a telephone pole. Where isn’t important.

Sudden drops in hits are alarming and baffling, especially when numbers pop back up the next day. What was that all about? You will never know. One of the great mysteries of blogging. Numbers by themselves don’t mean everything, but they don’t mean nothing, either. A lot of hits indicates interest at the very least. Hit counts on individual posts tell me a lot too.

There are two kinds of posts in the blogging world. There are posts that are highly topical and burn really hot for a short time. Most of these involve breaking stories, current events, scandals, stuff like that. And there are slow burners. Timeless material, fiction, reviews.

Reviews can have a very long shelf life. People keep coming to read them over and over. Many of these are informational in nature, reviews of technology, books, movies. Oddly, reviews of extremely obscure movies do quite well, maybe because it’s difficult to find reviews of them anywhere. Camera reviews seem to have an eternal life. Book reviews of popular authors continue to be accessed months after original publication.

The posts with a long shelf lives gather a lot of hits over the months. One of my top three posts has more than 5000 hits, but it took more than 9 months. As long as the material remains relevant, people will find it. Good placement on Google helps too, but over all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the longevity of reviews in general, technology in particular.

So for all that WordPress doesn’t think much of my work, a lot of other people apparently feel otherwise and in the end, that matters. It matters a lot. My followers, my readers have become a kind of family. We share each others’ lives, pains, joys. We celebrate and mourn together. We’ve never met, but we aren’t strangers.

I still save every “like” and every notification of a new follower. I would follow all my followers, but I’m out of time. I can’t keep up with that many blogs. I can barely keep up with the books I’m supposed to be reading and reviewing.

I can’t imagine how people do this when they have full-time jobs and young children. I’ve never been more impressed than I am with homemakers and career men and women who manage to handle their family obligations, jobs and blogs. All honor to you. You are the real rock stars.

The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

On Criminal Minds in the première episode for the 2012-2013 season, the “perp” sews a victims mouth shut but in his mouth leaves the message “Gazing through to the other side.” The BAU FBI team cannot find any reference to this quote. So I typed it into Google and hit Enter. Guess what?

It’s part of a song, the lyrics to which essentially are the plot of the episode in which the first four victims are women, thrown into ditches, with their mouths sewn shut.

If I can find this in one hit on Google, is the FBI less capable than I? Unable to do the most basic Google search? There isn’t anything more basic than typing in what you want to know about then hitting Enter, is there? My granddaughter could do this kind of search before she was in first grade.

If anyone thinks I believe the FBI is actually producing the show, anyone who can chew gum and walk at the same time knows this is a network television show that employs a staff of writers to write scripts supposed to make us believe these are hyper-competent profiler/agents. And they can’t run a Google search any grade school child can run. Wow! Bad writing and plagiarism? What a terrific combination for a show about the FBI!

There could be an innocent explanation, like the real authors of the material were paid, but never credited. I’d like to hear that. It could restore a bit of my rapidly diminishing faith in humankind.

Because it couldn’t be plagiarism. CBS wouldn’t allow that, right? Because networks, TV execs, writers, etc. are all so honest that such a thing could never happen. And the tooth fairy left you a buck under your pillow.

The song is by a group named Blitzen Trapper, lead singer/lyricist, Eric Earley.

“Black River Killer”

They booked me on a whim and threw me deep in jail
With no bail, sitting silent on a rusty pail
Just gazing at the marks on the opposite wall
Remembering the music of my lover’s call

So you make no mistake
I know just what it takes
To pull a man’s soul back from heaven’s gates
I’ve been wandering in the dark about as long as sin
But they say it’s never too late to start again

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a calling for my soul to sin
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?

It was dark as the grave, it was just about three
When the warden with his key came to set me free
They gave me five dollars and a secondhand suit
A pistol and a hat and a worn out flute

So I took a bus down to the Rio Grande
And I shot a man down on the edge of town
Then I stole me a horse and I rode it around
Til the sheriff pulled me in and sat me down

He said, you make no mistake
I know just what it takes
To pull a man’s soul back from heaven’s gates
I’ve been wandering in the dark about as long as sin
But they say it’s never too late to start again

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a calling for my soul to sin
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?

Well the sheriff let me go with a knife and a song
So I took the first train up to Oregon
And I killed the first man that I came upon
Because the devil works quick, you know it don’t take long

Then I went to the river ford to take a swim
You know that black river water is as black as sin
And I washed myself clean as a newborn babe
And then I picked up a rock for to sharpen my blade

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a calling for my soul to sin
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?
Oh when, oh when
Will that black river water wash me clean again
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again

-

It took me less than 10 seconds to find this. What’s going on guys? Television has become boringly derivative, but this is not merely derivative, it’s theft. I wouldn’t mind hearing from someone about this. I would like to hear an explanation.

NOTES:

1) According to one of the show’s producers, the show is based on the Blitzen Trapper song. The group was compensated for its use. It isn’t plagiarism, just bad writing.

2) If the writers don’t want us to assume the same rules apply in the TV show as apply in the real world, they should not pretend the show is about FBI agents who are part of the élite unit of an actual law enforcement agency. If you don’t want to play by the rules of the real world, create a fake world where you can have stuff fall up because gravity doesn’t exist. You cannot have it both ways.

3) I reopened the comments because I just reblogged it (2/4/2014). Let’s see if anyone still cares! — I closed the comments and deleted all 48 comments including mine. Some of you seem to have no sense of proportion. This is a television show, not life and death.

4) I wrote this post last September, 9 months ago. It was intended as a comment on what I thought was poor script writing and the uncredited use of someone else’s material. In the months since I wrote it, the issue of the song’s use has been clarified. I’m tired of arguing about this. Please feel free to argue amongst yourselves. Leave me out of it.

Daily Prompt: The Stat Connection – How to make friends and influence people

My most popular all time whiz-bang post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for that post plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour.

shadow me

I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

swan 93

What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows and be lucky. Make sure Google puts you at the top of the search for that thing, whatever it is. Because that’s what drives them to me. Not my brilliant writing, not the extraordinary subject matter. I wrote a little piece quickly, without much thought, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits. I have no idea what kind of lesson to take from that. Do you? You may read it here: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook. It’s funny, but it’s not exactly a cogent, well-written commentary on the human condition. I’ve written shopping lists with deeper meaning. In the name of scientific inquiry, feel free to give this your full attention: The man who saw the future …

Finally in the number three position with 2,645 hits is a reblog of an article comparing two Olympus cameras, the PEN PL-5 and the PEN PM-2. It gets from 20 to 100 hits a day, every day since I published it about a year ago. Apparently if you are shopping for Olympus cameras, you are more likely to find me than the original author. The mystery of Google strikes again. You will enjoy this if you are buying a new mirrorless camera. The information is excellent and if I’d written it myself, I’d be prouder still: Olympus E-PL5 vs. Olympus E-PM2, a surprise. I bought the PM2, by the way. I already owned the PL-1 and P3.

There is no connection between these posts other than they hit the public fancy and placed well on Google’s search engine. One was written by someone else, another is a well-known Internet joke, and third comments about a popular TV show and involves hunting serial killers. What it proves to me? Popularity has little to do with good writing, meaningful subject matter, or even good taste. Taken by themselves, statistics are worse than meaningless: they are deceptive. If you can find another interpretation, I’m all ears.

Rarely are your best efforts your most popular posts. So far, never. The pieces of which I’m the most proud often languish unnoticed while articles written in haste with little thought, but about popular subjects do very well. On the rare occasions when a piece I’m genuinely proud of does well, I glow.

75-Cyclone-NK-066

Meanwhile, by dint of working really hard at finding interesting, entertaining and valuable subjects to write about, I’ve got almost 85,000 hits, more than 400 followers, about 1200 posts and Word Press has never found a single thing I’ve written or photographed worthy of being Freshly Pressed. Not a single picture or post. That boggles my mind too because I’ve read a lot of the freshly pressed material and can’t remember any of it. It was smooth reading and totally forgettable. Maybe I’m trying too hard.

Some days I wonder why I bother? I could just go find stuff on the Internet and reblog it and get fantastic numbers. But then I slap myself on the face and remind me I don’t do it for the numbers or even for the recognition, though I certainly wouldn’t mind positive input.

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I do it because I love it. The writing, the photography, the relationships. I really, truly love it. So until I just wear out and give up from sheer exhaustion, I guess you are all stuck with me.

Other recent top entries, many of which are informational and/or technical should not surprise me because I was a technical writer for 35 years and I write a good reference stuff. After all those years, you’d figure I’d have a grip on that, at least. So here’s a list of my most popular posts (not in order, but overall hit count showing). Within the list are contain some pieces I think are pretty good. Well-written and containing interesting or useful information, or just an opinion I’m glad someone found worth reading.

Why tablets can’t replace computers. And why they shouldn’t. (301 hits)

Amazon Kindle Fire 7-Inch HD: 13-months later (369 hits)

The Felix Castor Series, Mike Carey (359 hits) 

How many states are trying to secede? (843 hits)

Things that go bump in the night (354 hits)

Gazing through to the other side: Hollywood and Moral Character (751 hits)

Where do the swans go? (334 hits) (photo gallery)

Old Coney Island Impressions (306 hits) (photo gallery)

Nothing ties these articles together. Not theme, style, subject matter. The only thing they share is (with two glaring exceptions) the author — me. What should I make of this? You tell me. I don’t like any of the conclusions I draw.

GAZING THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE: HOLLYWOOD & MORAL CHARACTER

Blitzen Trapper

When I got 1000 hits in about half an hour, I knew that they must be rebroadcasting this season’s premier episode of Criminal Minds. I’ve written more than 1000 posts, but this is the one that gets the most hits.

So, it must be the perfect time to re-post this piece. The question is whether or not the plot used in the premier show of season 8 of “Criminal Minds” is based on a song by a group named Blitzen Trapper, whose lead singer/lyricist is Eric Earley. This comes up each time the show airs, which is how come I get all these hits on that post.

To settle the issue once and for all — or until the show airs again — one of my correspondents is a producer on Criminal Minds. He assures me the group is being compensated and nothing underhanded is going on. I’m grateful to discover things are not as bad as they seem. It’s so rare. Usually, whatever is going on, things are worse than I imagined possible.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from people who seem otherwise intelligent yet against all reason believe big corporations would never take advantage of “little people,” and certainly would never commit (gasp) plagiarism. What makes this belief bizarre is that the corporations under discussion are run for and by people in show business. Unless my correspondents are living on a different planet than me, why would they think this? Have these people displayed such high moral character that they are incapable of illegal or immoral behavior? Could anyone be that naïve?

Apparently yes.

Corporations spend millions of dollars on public relations and advertising campaigns designed to convince us that they have our best interests at heart. They are entitled to give it their best shot, but why would anyone actually believe them? How has any corporation ever shown itself  to be on any side but its own? And show business folks? These are not people famous for moral turpitude. Plagiarism is ridiculously commonplace. I don’t know a writer with hopes of breaking into “the business” who hasn’t had a piece of work stolen. Here’s how it works.

You go for an interview. You bring your story idea, your script, manuscript, lyrics, arrangement, proposal, whatever. You present it to the person to whom you hope to sell it. You make your pitch, praying this is the big score you’ve been waiting for. Alas, it is another rejection. You’re used to rejection. It comes with the territory.

A few months later, a new television series is introduced that has an identical storyline to the one you were trying to sell to that very production studio. A few relatively minor details have been altered, but you recognize it and so do all your friends.

Wathcha gonna do, eh? You’re going to sue the studio? Take the network to court? Bring suit against the record label? You have that kind of money and clout? If you were pitching your material, you are probably broke. They’ve got armies of lawyers. You’ve got your paycheck and tips from waiting on tables while you try to finish your next piece. Only in the Bible does David win. Goliath wins in the real world.

There is a great deal of plagiarism in television and movies, so much that the relevant lawsuits rarely make the news any more.

In the software world, accusations of intellectual property theft have reached the point where, after endless legal battles between Microsoft and Apple, every major manufacturer is suing every other manufacturer for copyright infringement. Who wins? Since everyone steals from everyone else and everyone is guilty to some extent, the winner is the company with the best lawyers or the most political influence. And of course, who paid off who.

Oh no, that doesn’t happen, you cry! Our legal system can’t be bought and sold. Right. And the tooth fairy left you a buck under your pillow last night. No really, she did. Honest! My congressman told me, so it must be true.

Public servants are as honest as the day is long. Corporations care about you and me. Hollywood and television executives are persons of the highest moral character. The moon is made of green cheese. Tomorrow I’m going to sprout wings and fly.

In this case, I believe my source, that Blitzen Trapper is being duly compensated and the worst crime involved is bad scriptwriting, which is not illegal, though it ought to be. The writers assumed the audience would not Google the song lyric within the first 10 seconds after the show’s characters said “there’s no reference to it anywhere.” Obviously they think we the audience are incompetent and stupid. It’s infuriating but it’s not against the law. Yet.

Just when I’m getting on my high horse about how we aren’t as dumb as they think we are, I get letters from readers proving that a lot of people may really be that dumb, or at least that naïve. I find this scary. Hell, these people are allowed to vote!

My signature line on email uses the following quote: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” – Robert Hanlon

In this case, for this show, I may have attributed to malice that which was in fact adequately explained by stupidity. That’s their excuse, but what excuse do you have for believing propaganda paid for by people who would squash you like a bug without a second thought?

I don’t get it. Maybe someone can explain it to me,

The Guest Star Did It

I hate to sound like everyone else, but television is boring. Soporific put-me-to-sleep dull. There used to be a few shows each night we followed, but so many have been taken off the air or deteriorated to unwatchability there remain but a few. Every year, we start the fall season hopeful there will be something worth watching. Perhaps a couple of interesting series, maybe a comedy. If we are lucky, the powers-that-be won’t have retired the few shows we watch that have survived several seasons.

Killing Harry’s Law for the sin of appealing to the wrong demographic (namely us) was a blow to the heart. We have since realized that killing that show was part of NBC’s master plan to destroy the network. They are doing a splendid job. For the first time, NBC has come in fifth in the ratings after Spanish-language Univision. I think the only NBC shows we still watch are Leno (which they will probably kill because we enjoy it) and occasionally Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit which we view erratically. It’s more a desperation move when everything is in reruns. It too is probably a rerun, but we haven’t seen it, so it’s new to us.

It’s not impossible to write new material, but it takes an effort. Originality is nearly extinct. I’m shocked when I don’t know what’s going to happen next or who did what. It’s a rare treat to be surprised by a script.

NCIS: Shumate

The other night, Garry commented that whatever it was — a new show and no, I do not remember the name — we’d seen it before. Being as this was a premier, you would think they might consider writing an original script for it. You would be wrong.

“We’ve seen everything before,” I said.

“We’re old,” he said.

“We may be old, but that’s not the problem. New shows are identical to the old shows. I think they ARE the old shows. They reuse scripts, just change a couple of names and places. We need to get our heads right. Stop expecting originality and try to appreciate whether or not they do the same old stuff well.”

“It would save us from disappointment.”

“Yup. We need to align our expectations with reality.”

“Yeah. Lower our entertainment requirements. Uh, how much more can we lower them? They’re pretty much at the bottom already.” And so they are.

There are still a few shows we really enjoy. NCIS, long may it reign, we watch both the new shows and reruns. It’s our entertainment fallback position.

We watch White Collar. It wins a prize for being the only cop show that doesn’t only solve murders. The show deals with crimes in which no one got killed! What creative genius thought of that?

Elementary has been  pleasantly unpredictable and has, in return, won our loyalty.

Anger Management is actually funny. Laugh-out-loud funny. Wow. A funny comedy! A startling idea I thought the networks had abandoned in favor of reality shows. It has been a long time since a sitcom was anything other than insipid and insulting to what’s left of our so-called intelligence.

Our Friday night fix is Blue BloodsTom Selleck alone is worth your time. There are a couple of other shows that occasionally aren’t completely predictable (I can’t think of them off-hand which probably speaks volumes), but for the most part, we know what’s going to happen on any show from the opening scene. The credits are enough to give away the story most of the time. The guest star did it. Why else would he or she be on the show?

It’s not impossible to write original material, but it does require a willingness to make an effort at original thought and a committment from networks to let a show stay on the air long enough to develop an audience. A lot of the shows that have become long-term favorites — like NCIS – took several seasons to find an audience. Had MASH come on the air today, it wouldn’t have lasted a single season. They’d have pulled it for not being an instant hit.

SeasonRatings

Of the top 20 shows that are series, not specials, we watch four series regularly: NCIS, Blue Bloods, Elementary and Criminal Minds. We watch Person of Interest most of the time and Vegas sometimes. That is six of the top 20. The rest of the “top rated shows” we don’t watch at all. This doesn’t bother the networks because we are not part of the sought-after 18 to 45 demographic. So even when, as happened with Harry’s Law, a show is a hit with our group, it gets taken off the air anyway because we don’t count. If we didn’t watch Leno, I’d have boycotted NBC, but they don’t need our help. They’re self-destructing just fine.

Requiring every show to be a sure thing, to be a hit in fewer than half a dozen shows, kills any hope of creativity. An unwillingness to take chances has so completely taken over the entertainment industry I can only wonder if they will bother to produce new shows a few years from now. They can go to all reruns all the time. It would save a great deal of money and it’s entirely about the bottom line, is it not? Whether or not viewers enjoy shows apparently has little to do with programming.

Not merely are producers boring viewers into a stupor, but networks are making themselves irrelevant. How come any average person can see what’s going on but network executives seem oblivious? It is difficult to fathom.

Ultimately, we will stop trying to make sense of it and seek entertainment elsewhere. We are doing that, for the most part, anyhow. We watch more reruns than new shows. We watch more movies than series. We don’t rely on offerings by any of the networks, though when they give us something to watch, we do give it a whirl. But they aren’t trying to keep our loyalty. They’ve made it clear they don’t care about us, so it’s hard to care about them.

There are many more entertainment choices today than were available even a year or two ago. Even more options will be available soon. If ever an industry seemed hell-bent on suicide, network television is it.

Gazing through from the other side with a British accent

It’s 5 hours later in London than in New England. I was reminded of this today because a few minutes after 4 in the afternoon, I got almost 400 hits from England on a blog I wrote Last September.

The post is about the première episode of this season of the CBS series “Criminal Minds.” For those of you who have never watched the show, it is based on the FBI‘s Behavioral Analysis Unit based in Quantico, Virginia.

I wrote the original post on September 26, 2012, which was when the première episode for this season of “Criminal Minds” aired in the United States. For some reason, that post hit the top of Google’s search engine and has stayed there ever since.

The series supposedly portrays the FBI’s best and brightest. The words “gazing through from the other side” were left at a crime scene and in the show, the team can’t find any reference to those words anywhere in the virtual universe. Of course the first thing I did after they said they couldn’t find it was type the words into Google and hit “Enter.” Up came the song, the lyrics, the group … and it took me perhaps 10 seconds.

Apparently the same thing happened today in England when the show aired for the first time. Everyone watched the show, heard the line, grabbed their tablet or laptop, Googled the phrase … and found me.

googleSerendipity

I realize it’s TV, not the real FBI, but surely even the fake FBI can do a simple Google search. My granddaughter was doing Google searches before she finished first grade, so it is hard to believe a television show would portray federal agents as less computer savvy than a 6-year-old.

It had been an unremarkable day, even a bit slow. I usually get most of my hits in the evening, so when I looked at my site in mid afternoon and saw I had around 140 hits, it seemed normal.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet.

When I went back to look at my site a bit after 4 in the afternoon, I had gotten almost 600 hits, the vast majority from Great Britain for that same post about “Criminal Minds.” I may not be the sharpest tack in the tool box, but I deduced today was the British première of the show. I was so sure I didn’t even bother to check until an hour ago when I Googled “criminal minds UK première” and it came up as 28 January 2013 at 9pm — 4pm my time.

That little post, written between commercial breaks, has been my all-time most popular post. It isn’t my best work. It isn’t even close to my best. I’ve posted hundreds of better pieces, but none ever got such a big response. It makes me think about why I’m blogging. I want to be read, but it would be nice to be recognized for work of which I’m proud. Regardless, my most popular stuff is never my best. Sometimes, it isn’t even mine — it’s a reblog. That hurts.

When I get responses to posts on which I worked hard, it makes me happy. Responses from people who “get me” are gratifying. The only thing that could make it better would be money. Feel free to send cash or checks. I’m sorry, but I don’t accept credit cards.

Ten useful things I’ve learned about blogging

I started this blog in February 2012, but it wasn’t until the end of May that I started to write regularly. Before that, I posted erratically and rarely.

Criminal Minds Season 7 Promo

In September, I tossed off a very short post about Criminal Minds (the TV show, not politicians) that somehow wound up the first result in a Google search. It has stayed in the top 5 search results (out of 4,100,000 possible results) for more than a month. I have no idea how that happened. That single post has gotten more than 3,500 hits and keeps going. It took me 5 minutes to write and was a response to something that bothered me about the show. Who knew that so many people cared about a television series about profilers and serial killers?

The ups and downs of popularity remain a mystery. Immediately after that post, my numbers went way up, then as I expected, began to drop, then level out. Even so, I tripled the hits I get each day. Folks came for that post and stayed for others. I also have an unknown number of  followers on Bloggers, Twitter, ScoopIt, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.

I am, as my blog title suggests, eclectic. By profession, I’m a writer. By inclination an historian. My hobby is photography. I have distinct audiences for writing and photography. I haven’t figured out how much these groups overlap. Even within my writing, subject matter varies quite a lot. Amongst philosophical ramblings, discussions of whatever current events are on my mind, and so on, I write a lot of stuff about movies and TV. There is a specific audience for the media posts.

Posts I labor over may be barely noticed; others that I just drop on the page get lots of hits. I have learned, through trial and error, a few things worth mentioning. I’m sure I’ll learn more. I need and want to learn more. Meanwhile, here are 10 things I’ve learned that seem to be true:

  1. Less really is more. More than 1000 words is too long. 500 words is plenty, especially if you include pictures. Sometimes, just a caption is enough.
  2. Use more pictures, fewer words. Everyone likes pictures especially nature, pretty girls, children, dogs, and for some peculiar reason, Arizona.
  3. Funny gets more hits than depressing. Being serious is appropriate for serious subjects, but you can use a light touch even with heavy material.
  4. Popularity is nice, but it’s your blog. Do your own thing. That’s the point, isn’t it?
  5. Digress but remember to come back. When I tell stories, I ramble. It’s my style. I wander before I get to my destination, but there’s a limit to how far and how often you can roam without losing your reader.
  6. Be economical in how much material you use per day and per post. If you set yourself an unsustainable pace, you’ll burn out.
  7. Have fun. Have a lot of fun. Enjoyment is contagious.
  8.  Do what you love. Blog about the things you find beautiful, important, amusing, or interesting.
  9. If you aren’t having fun, give it up.
  10. On the graphics side, leave white space. At least 50% of the screen should be empty. This percentage includes the space between pictures and text, between paragraphs, margins at the top and both sides, space between columns. Clutter is hard on the eyes and gives your site a “rummage sale” look. Do you really need every widget?

A New One Just Like the Old One

 

English: Mariska Hargitay and Danny Pino on th...

English: Mariska Hargitay and Danny Pino on the set of Law and Order: SVU, “Missing Pieces” Episode #13.5 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again. Fall, yes, but far more important, it’s the beginning of the fall prime time television line up.

I want to be excited about it. I want to be surprised. I want to be thrilled. Alas, I am not.

Harry’s Law,” which was one of the few bright spots in a dreary lineup, is gone and unlikely to come back.

“House” is finished, though it had a long run and it was time to retire. Still, I’ll miss it if for no other reason than it was a little bit different than other shows.

“Bones” is back, and I hope they get back to forensic anthropology and stop focusing on the sort-of marital relations of Bones and Booth.

The Closer” is gone. Its spinoff, “Major Crimes” is on, but without Kyra Sedgewick. It’s not bad, but without Kyra, it isn’t the same. It’s okay, but not terrific.

Law and Order: SVU” is hanging on though I could skip a weekly sex offender fix.

Criminal Minds”  is a good show, but I’m not always ready to watch brutal serials killers mutilating and torturing victims. It’s particularly the wrong show to watch right before trying to go to sleep.

Pauley Perrette in the season opener of NCIS.

And then, there’s “NCIS” … our favorite show that’s still going. Yay Gibbs! Yay team!. Great to have Gibbs and the team back and I wonder what he’ll be building next? Very glad Ducky is still with us. Ilya lives!

“Vegas” was pretty good, a sort of cross between “Longmire” and the old Las Vegas series that starred James Caan. It was a bit derivative, but more original than most of the other stuff. For example, “NCIS: Los Angeles” bores me to tears. It’s not merely derivative, it’s also dull.

There are, I am sure, the usual broad and mindless selection of reality shows that we have never watched and never will. They keep putting them on, we keep trying hard to ignore their existence. If I get that desperate for entertainment, just shoot me.

We still have the “Mentalist” which is entertaining. And though I haven’t seen the latest incarnations of either “Private Practice” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” both were verging on daytime soap opera last season, so they’d have to do something super special to move forward from there.

The bright spot in my entire TV year was “Newsroom” and I can barely can contain my excitement until it comes back again.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but everything seems like rehash of something I’ve seen before. I can predict the dialogue of first run brand new shows. It’s like someone has a cliché generating computer with pre-formatted scripts, just change the names and locations, and voilà, a brand new cop show, medical show, lawyer show. And each is as predictable as the last.

Yup, it’s a new season. Watching re-runs of “MASH” is, on the whole, more satisfying than watching most current shows; more interesting and less predictable, even though I’ve seen them before.

As a final comment on the state of media, Leno was just on. He made a joke about “Newsroom” and Aaron Sorkin, except the audience had never seen the show or heard of Sorkin. So Leno said “West Wing? Boston Legal? You know, really intelligent shows?” Nope, they never heard of them. “Jersey Shore” they heard of. It’s just going to keep getting worse.

As for me, I shall be reading many books this year. Lots of books.