Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Buy, Worst Packaging

It May Not Be Easy Being Green, But You At Least Have to Try
I was only too happy to take advantage last week of an offer to buy $50 worth of iTunes gift cards from Best Buy for around 42 bucks, with free shipping to boot.
Despite the recent tsunami of bad PR that BB suffered because it didn't fulfill some holiday gift orders, I hit the send button and my cards showed up today, just five days after I placed my order.
So thanks, all you blue-shirted minions toiling away in a Findlay, Ohio, warehouse to dispatch my booty. But no thanks for sending two gift cards in a 5 x 9 inch box, complete with bubble wrapping and seven copies of an ad urging me to buy a new smartphone and in return receive, wait for it, a Best Buy gift card!
And all of this packaging meant paying more to UPS to get the gift cards to me. Of course, that's not my concern. I just want cut-rate music. But now I have to dutifully break down a box and ensure it and the excessive collateral that came inside make it to the recycling bin.
I'm down with that. Still, I wonder how many people really are. I can imagine that a fair bit of this crap gets thrown away with the regular trash and finds a permanent home in an overcrowded landfill.
It doesn't have to be that way. It can't be too hard for Best Buy to also use best practices to be a steward of the environment. It might even prompt more people to shop in the stores, even those you royally pisssed off when their flatscreen didn't make it to the door last week.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Homeland Didn't Make a "Killing" With Its Finale, But....

A Little OMG at the End Wouldn't Have Been So Bad

After staying up late-ish to watch the finale of "Homeland," I got another good reason to justify the $13 a month I fork over for Showtime and its companion channels.
This was taut, seat-of-your-pants storytelling from start to almost finish, with a pitch-perfect cast (career highlight for Mandy Patinkin, left) who deftly took on scripts that found just the right mix of tension without verging into comic-book melodrama.
Let's face it (spoiler alert). Even if you knew the show was renewed for another season, you couldn't be completely convinced that Brody wasn't going to blow himself, the evil vice president and lots of other D.C. V.I.Ps to smithereens. Sure, it would have been a very different show, but that's, er, show(time) biz.
After all, "Boardwalk Empire" offed a major character in the second-season finale (sorry, Michael Pitt) and it will need to change direction.
That we now get a different brand of psychological thriller on "Homeland" is fine by me, though exactly what kind is hard to say, if this interview with executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, is to be believed.
As for the ending: it wasn't the letdown that was the finale of the rookie season of "The Killing," which essentially gave loyal viewers the finger with a cop-out ending that had lots of folks saying "WTF," but not in a good way. Rest assured, I'll be glued to AMC when it returns, but we all deserved better.
For "Homeland," it wasn't that it wrapped with any false twists. It's that it didn't twist at all at the end, as if it ran out of steam, signaled it was getting ready to regroup (just like Carrie, after she receives her electroshock therapy) and faded to the credits. This is a show that's more bang than whimper. It didn't act that way at the end, though Gansa defended that approach to TV Line:

"It was actually something that I learned working for Howard on 24, that there’s a lot of merit in the denouement of the story. In 24, the big event often happened in the penultimate episode or early on in the last episode, and there’s a lot of wonderful ground to cover after it’s over — and in certain ways, that’s where the character really comes to the fore."

Meh. But I'll be back, looking to say "WTF" in a good way.

And the Award for Best Crocodile Tears Goes to.....


Vecsey (Don't Call it A Retirement) Departure Shouldn't Be Excuse for Times to Can Sports Column

What Made Sports Section Distinctive Shouldn't Be Abandoned

The New York Times brass has shown themselves indifferent, if not downright hostile, to the sports column. Maybe it's because the stars who pen the column cost too much. Maybe it's easy to discard when the news hole shrinks. Maybe it's just plain dumb.

George Vecsey penned his final regular column on Saturday (that the Times would not showcase such a lamentable occasion in the Sunday paper tells you a lot). That means only Bill Rhoden is the only regular "Sports of the Times" columnist left.

Yes, there is pointed analysis about a particular sport without it verging into a full-fledged column, e.g. Tyler Kepner "On Baseball," etc. And this is not to say the section, for whatever its flaws on coverage of local teams, is not well-written.

With the likes of Ben Shpigel, Mike Tanier, Jere Longman and Bill Pennington, among others, cranking out copy, writing is the least of the Times' problems.

But a column is destination reading in a sports section. If you operate on the premise, as the Times does more aggressively than any other major paper, that many readers need less game-day coverage, then a column provides those points of differentiation that may be the only thing saving the section from irrelevance (that massive takeout by John Branch on the death of hockey goon Derek Boogaard is another way).

It was bad enough that the Times booted Harvey Araton from his column in 2009 after 15 years, briefly reassigned him to do features elsewhere in the paper, then brought him back to write for the sports pages. He's done a lot of extended enterprise pieces, and a lot of those On (fill in the sport), er, columns. But the lack of hubris is apparently too much to overcome for the Times to put him back as a columnist. Sports editor Joe Sexton would do well by taking this step, and finding a brash third voice as well (Wallace Matthews, anybody?).

As for Vecsey, it was a great ride. That he will still be writing for the Times on occasion is cause for comfort. But I'm sure that he is the last person who views himself as irreplaceable. The Times needs to prove him right.