Current TV adds Olbermann to shake things up

The tectonic plates of the American media landscape are starting to shift once again.

Two major events have given me a new spirit of hope in news media, both occurring this week. And both by Tuesday!

First off, Keith Olbermann, the former liberal host of MSNBC‘s “Countdown” announced that he will be starting a new show on Current TV, the fledgling entertainment and world affairs network founded by former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt in 2005.

Olbermann told reporters on a conference call Tuesday morning that it will be an “amplified and stronger version of the show that I just did.”

But the even bigger news here is that Olbermann will become Current Media’s Chief News Officer and take an equity stake in the company. Meaning he will be up there with Joel, Al and CEO Mark Rosenthal as one of the hotshots.

Current’s own employees didn’t know a thing until the New York Times announced it.

At least that’s what Mariana Van Zeller, one of the investigative reporters in Current’s investigative documentary series “Vanguard“, told me today in an e-mail.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Full disclosure of course: I interned for Vanguard in 2009. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Read more about Current’s reinvention here from MediaBistro.

….

NEXT UP: AOL + HuffPost = a reinvention of the news wheel?

First Listen: Gorillaz “Plastic Beach” floats on

"Plastic Beach" by Gorillaz, released March 8, 2010

Virtual band Gorillaz released its first album in five years Tuesday, just in time to transfix listeners before a headlining gig on the third day of Coachella in April.

“Plastic Beach”, the third studio album from co-creators Damian Albarn and Jamie Hewlett is equally exotic, interesting, refreshing and weird. And you can stream the whole thing right now on NPR.

And there’s a good chance that’s exactly the intentions of Albarn, the former Blur frontman, and Hewlett, the comic book artist known for creating “Tank Girl”.

The two created Gorillaz after getting sick of watching MTV somewhere around 1998 and created a cartoon band to comment on the “music” channel’s “lack of substance.”

The new album incorporates the usual electro-funk hip-hop goodness Gorillaz is known for. But this time around, there’s some special guest stars to make things extra juicy.

Most notably are appearances from Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, De La Soul, Little Dragon and even Lou Reed.

The concept stems from Albarn’s experiences at landfills in Western Africa and London – how he viewed the world in a new, optimistic way. He decided plastic was actually part of nature and not against it.

The recognizable and intentionally unemotional singing from fictional lead singer 2D (Albarn) that we all remember from Gorillaz debut hit “Clint Eastwood” doesn’t come in until the fourth track, “Rhinestone Eyes.”

Until we get there, we’re presented with an instrumental intro,  a laid-back Snoop Dogg welcome and a electronic-orchestral mashup featuring hip-hop stylings by British rappers Bashy and Kano.

But nothing really sticks until Albarn’s singing is laid over some synthesizer-laden beats in “Rhinestone”, which is where we should fine a surefire new Gorillaz hit. It’s got pop sensibilities and a funkiness that could only come from an amalgam of a band that probably started as a joke.

“Stylo”, “Some Kind of Nature” and “Plastic Beach” are also standouts.

The nice thing here is that Albarn and Hewlett are doing what they want with “Plastic Beach.”

It sounds a lot less mainstream than parts of 2005’s “Demon Days” (I think we’ve all heard “D.A.R.E” one too many times) and it’s unlikely to pervade pop culture as heavily. Though that doesn’t mean it won’t be popular. It will be.

“Plastic Beach” is a mixed bag of melancholy hip-hop and pop songs worth checking out. Don’t expect any Gnarls Barkley on this beach, but the album should shine enough to keep it hot through summer.

Also worth mentioning is that Gorillaz brought in more guests than even appear on this album. Expect some B-sides to include more collabs with De La Soul and Mos Def, as well as performances by British garage rock band The Horrors.

Oh and don’t forget to check out the interactive Plastic Beach Game if you’re looking to venture a little deeper down the rabbit hole.

Plug in to Vanguard

screenshot from iambrandx.com

screenshot from iambrandx.com

 

In two weeks and less than five hours from the time of this blog post, the fourth season of Current TV‘s “Vanguard” returns.

Interestingly enough, I have been interning with the team of about 14 for about two weeks as well. The duties have ranged from transcribing to researching and assisting the correspondents, and should hopefully flourish into something more participatory where I can really dig my nails in and get into these amazing international stories that the team covers.

Last season, they covered the recession in a three-part series, guns in America, robots in Japan, and war in Iran. This season, more breathtaking documentary episodes to come.

And in the next two weeks we will hopefully be amping up Vanguard’s online presence through social media. While plenty have written off Twitter and Facebook as wastes of time, they still prove their worth  interesting new ways — it’s all about connecting. And man that online world is crazy these days. I could spend a whole day on the Internet just exploring what’s out there, and I’d still be missing tons of awesome stuff. 

Gotta be careful not to become obsessed though. Too much digitalia can rot your brain! Or reduce your sperm count! Or was that Mountain Dew…

Either way, the first episode of the new season, premiering Oct. 14, is called OxyContin Express. It’s about prescription drug abuse and how Florida plays a vital role in supplying pills.

HERE’S THE LINEUP:

  • The Oxycontin Express : 10/14/09
  • Cuba: Waiting for a Revolution : 10/21/09
  • Forest of Ecstasy : 10/28/09
  • Sri Lanka: Notes from a War on Terror : 11/04/09
  • Porn 2.0 : 11/11/09
  • Prison Contraband : 11/16/09
  • Remote Control War : 12/02/09
  • Cocaine Mafia : 12/09/09
  • Current has also been picking up some steam and notoriety here and there, which is really cool to see. While the Gore/Clinton Korea rescue propelled Current into public eyes, others have been noticing too (see above from iambrandx) — Rolling Stone even made mention of a brand new [mini]series Current is launching called “Embedded.”

    Now that looks sweet: exclusive shows on Mos Def, Common, Ben Harper, Silversun Pickups, Thievery Corporation, and The Decemberists. Cannot wait for this. And it debuts right after Vanguard on the 14th.

    Rolling Stone says this about EMBEDDED in reason #47 to watch TV this season (more on that later! cable looks like its pulling up it’s pants)

    “If Animal Planet had a show that captured musicians in their natural habitats, it would look like this refreshingly raw documentary series. Ben harper gives a tour of his instrument shop in California; Mos Def roams the streets of Osaka, Japan. It’s artists in their everyday lives, free of the crowds.”

    Check out some cool videos from today in the Current SF office (Vanguard’s in LA). See Adam Yamaguchi, Mariana Van Zeller and Christof Putzel give a presentation on the new season.

    Oh yeah, and Vanguard’s blog tells us that Mariana made her way onto Dr. Phil for an episode about drug abuse airing, yep you guessed it, Oct. 14.

    That’s all for now. More to come from inside the Vanguard office, and reviews from a slew of shows I saw in the past week: Portugal. The Man @ The Glasshouse, !!! @ The Troubadour, and Wallpaper @ Cinespace. Phew.

    Reality America

    Is life not real enough? Apparently, for Americans, the answer is no.

    Reality TV

    Reality TV

    NBC just ditched 5 hours of scripted programming for scripted “reality” television. Awesome.

    I turned on cable for the first time in ages, and it’s the same ollllld shit. The shit that reminds me a) why I don’t have cable and b) what’s wrong with our country on so many levels.

    You turn on American TV and it’s no wonder everything is so fucked up here. One glance and you can see all that we care about: girls, cars, glory, money, beauty, and making it big.

    Everything is about the ever-so challenging lives of beautiful people, mostly women, across the country. All we care about are the beautiful people! Normal people do far more impressive things FYI. We’ve got the Kardashians with a new show about what a couple sexy ladies can do with a buttload of money in Miami. The answer? Whatever they want. Duh.

    Jon of Jon + Kate Plus 8 wants out of the TV show and a regular 9-5 job. He’s probably made his millions already, so who blames him?

    I think even Heidi from The Hills has her own show with Spencer now, too. It pains me that I even know all this!

    I admit, I pipe up sometimes looking to find the most ridiculous reality TV or pop culture craze to poke fun of, but man do they make it easy.

    I mean, MTV and VH1 have completely ditched music for “reality” programming. What has the world come to?!

    And a few signs of the Apocalypse, judged from my first 20 minutes of channel surfing:

    – White Chicks and an third (fourth? fifth?) installment of Bring It On are on TV at the same time

    – SNL and MTV reruns are just as terrible as I remember watching a year ago

    – 15 years since “The Real World” first aired on MTV, reality shows dominate.

    It’s cheap, it’s stupid, and it’s entertaining. So why bother giving us something worthwhile?

    Well, maybe because there are SOME people out there who appreciate a decent drama or an honest attempt at comedy (Arrested Development, for one).

    “Unscripted” “reality” television sucks for everyone: it takes away work from writers, eliminates jobs in Hollywood, makes audiences dumber, takes away chances for the public to experience decent programming…oh, and not to mention, it’s quite the stab in the heart to ever-sinking creativity.

    On top of all that is already wrong with the world, we have TMZ perpetuating it all. This obsession with vicariously living through celebrities and invading every last inch of their personal lives just so we can get the juicy “scoop” on who they’re dating? Or maybe a glimpse of them leaving a club drunk? WHO CARES?!

    It hurts. And it hurts bad. The real world (not the show) is real enough these days. Honestly.

    I will never like reality television. Someone, anyone, please stop all this. Before it spirals out of control. Oh wait….

    YouTube puts the shameless in self-promotion

    YouTube Live sucked. There is no better word for throwing so many wannabes into such a disgusting display of low-brow, low quality crap. Thank you for making the funny unfunny.

    YouTube Live sucked. There is no better word for throwing so many wannabes into such a disgusting display of low-brow, low quality crap. Thank you for making the funny unfunny.

    Saturday’s first annual “YouTube Live,” a two-hour livestream variety show, made me want to puke.

    At times, I wanted to shoot myself.

    Now I am not suicidal by any means, but this online, first time crapfest was worse than any MTV awards show.

    At least MTV has real stars. I mean Katy Perry and will.i.am are still big names, but most of the acts were inbred via YouTube and seemed like they were thrown together to create one big flop.

    While YouTube promoted this first of its kind event, which was filmed live in San Francisco, as a “part concert, part variety show and part party,” all I’ve got to say is it sucks.

    Not part suck, but full-fledged suck.

    Sitting there in the office, watching this “entertainment” crapisode and commenting on its horrifying nature at every corner, my opinions editor and I could not believe what we were watching.

    While the largest video sharing Web site was attempting to showcase the “talent” behind some of its most viewed videos, YouTube single-handedly managed to remove all funniness from every video on the site I ever enjoyed.

    Not even the abnormally low voice of Tay Zonday, the star of “Chocolate Rain” “Cherry Chocolate Rain” could save the show. While his YouTube video was one of my favorites, I now hate him.

    It was sad seeing a guy play Guitar Hero on stage, but even more disheartening when genuine guitar legend Joe Satriani lent the spotlight to another YouTube “star,” JerryC of “Canon Rock.”

    While YouTube is a very important site in today’s wide world of media and politics, I would call “Live” a few things.

    One of them would be a joke. Another: sell-out. I don’t know how you can sell yourself out on your own network, but YouTube has done it.

    Stick to CNN debates and letting YouTubers get big one their own. When you start banking on that is when things get shi… er, sticky.

    Saturday’s broadcast was plain and simple proof that the stuff made on webcams is meant for the Internet, not real life.

    From live, gay videobloggers to unfunny “comedians” and even altered animated shorts, every gimmick was taxed and every contributor lost what little credibility they had gained through YouTube.

    To watch the viral effects of the “Soulja Boy” dance-rap video phenomenon be dissected on the big screen, and follow up with terrible parodies of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin weeks after the election was just plain pathetic.

    When OK Go performed their treadmill music video live on at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2006, it was an impressive feat and culminated what had just been turning into a cultural phenomenon.

    For YouTube to do its own awards show (yes, there was an award given out) with almost purely YouTube-bred stars, was practically sacrilegious.

    Even the “Charlie bit my finger” video, where a cute little baby bites his brother’s finger and says an adorable line was ruined, when a trendy Asian hipster DJ mixed and remixed the sound bites with the video playing on screen.

    The only two worthwhile acts, a performance by the fairly decent Spinto Band and a 30-second HappyTreeFriends animated short, seemed out of place.

    MTV was established enough when it started hosting its own awards shows, and at least A-list stars and acts made it watchable in the beginning.

    YouTube needs to stop sucking its own dick and get real.

    Let the “stars” survive on their own!

    Let the record labels and movie studios recruit from your site on their own. We don’t need a special little display of untalented “artists” to tell us we should stop tuning in.

    We have been subdued by the Internet culture, and there is no depth to anything we see or hear anymore.

    It’s all a big ratings ploy and advertisement deal. This stuff is so bad, it sells.

    Watching “YouTube Live” was potentially more harmful to my soul than watching “The Hills.”