In less than a week, the final season of Game of Thrones begins. After five novels over the course of 23 years, two pilot episodes and seven seasons of the widely popular HBO TV show are finally about to see the end of winter. At least the end of winter for the TV show. And I’m okay with that. I’m not really a super fan of the show. I mean, I like the show. And I love the first three novels in the series, a lot. But books 4 and 5 were, um … long. Much, much too long.
Thankfully, the HBO series ditched a bunch of the meandering nonsense that happened in books 4 & 5 of George R.R. Martin’s beloved fantasy series. Even though that’s true, the farther the series strays from the source material, the less successful it is. And by “less successful” I’m not saying that audiences stopped watching it. No, not that at all. The most recent estimated audience for GoT is, “approx. 30 million people per episode” watch the show. So, it’s more popular than ever. I just think it’s inconsistently “good,” while occasionally being shockingly mediocre. Half the actors are perfectly cast and are considerably good in their roles, the other half of the actors are … um … okay (and sometimes they’re not.)
All that being said, Game of Thrones has certainly been a culture phenomenon far surpassing expectations for the HBO series. I would even go so far as to suggest that Game of Thrones pretty much is HBO. I have no doubt that HBO execs are ever on the lookout for the next GoT. Especially with something like five prequels/sequels in the works.
For those that are familiar with the show but have not read the novels, here is an oft repeated note that Martin’s readers all suspect - George R.R. Martin will probably die before he finishes writing the books. You see, the books are all massive, and it now takes him several years to finish one. Check out this list of publishing dates from most previous novel to the first one:
Book Five: A Dance of Dragons, published on July 12th, 2011.
Book Four: A Feast for Crows, published October 17th, 2005.
Book Three: Storm of Swords, published in 2000.
Book Two: Clash of Kings, published in 1998.
Book One: Game of Thrones, published in 1996.
You can see the time increase between publishing dates as Martin’s world and novels expand. George RR Martin is 70 years old, he’s a big man and he’s not terribly healthy. He still claims that Book Six: The Winds of Winter, isn’t really close to being done - and after that one is finished he still has a final book to write. Which, if his usual pattern continues, means that Book Seven: A Dream of Spring might be out sometime around 2030. And that’s probably not an exaggeration. I drink to Martin’s health and longevity, often. =)
I met Martin a few times back in 1999-2000, and I was able to tell him a cute story. And, boy did I not realize how accurate this story would turn out to be (a story I am about to tell you). You see, I used to work in a bookstore back in 1996, the year Game of Thrones hit the bookshelves. It was an odd looking silver foil cover with no art, it just read, “Game of Thrones. George RR Martin.”
I knew of Martin as I had devoured all of his 80’s series called, “Wildcards.” So, Game of Thrones was on my list, I just hadn’t gotten to it. And so, I’m at work one day and an old gentleman walks up to the counter. He appears to be in his eighties. I saw him the moment he walked in because he was moving very carefully. I didn’t think his movement was only because of his age, in fact - he looked as if either leg joint was injured and/or he was very ill. Or both. Hence the slow movement. So, he comes in, he walks to the Sci-Fi section, grabs the silver hardcover GoT, brings it to the counter and says, “I just finished this and, it’s the greatest fantasy novel I’ve ever read. Do you know when the next one is coming out?”
I say, “Oh, cool, you’re the first person to give me any kind of feedback about this book. I’m glad to hear it’s good because I like Martin’s other work.” Then I look up the exact publishing date of GoT, which was only the previous month. I say to him, “You know what? It looks like the hardcover was just released last month, so we’re probably not looking at a sequel for - at least a year or two.”
And this man, again, in his eighties, matter of factly says to me, “Yeah. I thought you were going to say that. I don’t think I’m gonna make it that long.”
And then he puts the book down on the counter and leaves the store. That day, I 100%, bought a copy of Game of Thrones!
I was able to relay that story to Martin sometime in 2000. There was uncomfortable laughter from him. I mean, what can you say to that story, right? Anyway, I thought his uncomfortable laughter was appropriate. But still, that old gentleman really had no idea what he was saying to me, and that was back in 1996. And Martin still hasn’t finished writing the series.
Back to the show, the GoT showrunners were given the general idea for the ending to all the storylines from Martin himself. So, as the series outpaced the novels the TV show was generally able to follow Martin’s plot. But, not really. The TV show has just transformed into something entirely different from the original novels. Characters arcs and entire storylines have been cut, or vastly changed. Some characters who are still alive in the books are now dead in the show, or vice versa. There really is no longer any comparison. A few years ago, Martin himself joked that the TV series has become more “fan fiction” than adaptation. And, as much as I love about HBO’s Game of Thrones, I kind of agree with that statement - too often the show plays out like overly melodramatic fan fiction.
But, despite its flaws, GoT is still the greatest fantasy we’ve ever had on TV. So, at least there’s that. And beginning on April 14th, 2019 - I, along with 30 million other of my closest friends will tune in to watch every single second of Season Eight of Game of Thrones. And sometime in the future I’ll probably watch every episode again.
Okay. As a huge Michael Jackson fan I did not want to watch Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary detailing MJ during the height of his stardom and his relationship with two boys, aged 7 and 10 (now in their 30s), and their story of how MJ sexually abused them. I mean, I was always on the fence with MJ's guilt. I’m sure that over the years, I defended him in conversations, even though I had my doubt.
I grew up in the 80’s and MJ was THE super star of my generation. Everyone loved him. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there was always a kid or two that was like, “I hate Michael Jackson” but, whatever. No they didn't.
In fact, one of the hardest decisions my 9 year old self ever had to make was this: It was Friday night and there were two things on TV at the same time that I desperately needed to watch.
The first: Doctor Who: The Key to Time Part (something) Dude, you may not care about Doctor Who but for me, as a nine year old kid - Doctor Who was the everything! I can’t remember exactly which episode of Key to Time was going to be on, but I know that it aired at 10pm and went until midnight. On Friday.
The second: Friday Night Videos. Which, from memory was on from 10:30 to 11:30pm. And, you know what video was going to be the featured? Thriller! For the first time, ever!
OMG! What to watch. What to do? What to watch! Doctor Who or Thriller? Thriller or Doctor Who?
I watched Doctor Who. Which, come Monday morning at school, turned out to be huge mistake because everyone else had seen Thriller and I was suddenly the uncool kid, and the only kid in class - who had not seen it. Which, is a big deal when you’re nine.
Moving forward, personally, I think Bad is actually a more consistent album than Thriller, and Smooth Criminal is the greatest dance video ever produced and probably my favorite MJ song. I bought MJ’s early 90s album, Dangerous, but by then the magic was fading. I never bought HIStory and never even heard much of his music after that because by then we were neck deep in “Wacko Jacko” stories and abuse allegation trials. And, even if their wasn’t actual abuse, which is what I believed at the time - Jackson was f**king weird, man! He did himself no favors by … ummm … admitting to sleeping in the same bed with lots of children. For many years. At his private ranch. While the parents of the kids where at a completely separate part of the ranch. And MJ had alarms on his doors & hallways so no one would be able to sneak up on his bedroom unnoticed - where he was alone with the children. In bed. But, um, nothing happened (says Jackson.)
And a lot of us … kind of believed it. I mean, the idea that MJ, who’s public persona was nothing more than a grown up kid himself, actually molested children was difficult to believe. But now, in 2019, the very thought that I didn’t believe the allegations against him feels pretty damn naïve. But at the time, I mean, he was weird and he was rich - which makes him an easy target. And just because he’s weird and rich doesn’t mean he’s evil. And besides, I like his music and his dancing is awesome. Therefore - he probably isn’t guilty. Right? (And "probably" was good enough for me.)
Shortly after his death (in 2009), I read about a couple of the police officers that had collected evidence in the 90's Jackson child abuse allegations. And while they were under a gag order and were unable to discuss specifics, both of the officers said something that struck me, which was to the effect of, “I make sure no one, and I mean no one in my house, or family - listens to Michael Jackson. Ever.”
Hmmm. Reading between the lines there, it sounds as if the officers involved in collecting evidence from Neverland Ranch were so disturbed by said collected evidence against M.J. - that they refused to let anyone in their family ever listen to his music.
To me, that suggested - something. Not everything, yet ... but something. But still, at the time, had you asked me if I was 100% certain of MJs guilt I probably would have made excuses defending him, but then at the end of the conversation would have said, “But I don’t know, I wasn’t there. So … maybe he’s guilty.”
Back to the fact that I really didn’t want to watch Leaving Neverland. You know why? Because it’s pretty damn clear I always suspected in my heart that my childhood idol was guilty of pedophilia and I just didn’t want to hear proof. Which is a sad admission, but there it is. Also, I suspect many, many people feel/felt this way.
And so, I watched it.
Holy God. The documentary is as horrifying as you’ve heard. Part 1 details the allegations, which are stunning. Part 2 deals with family trauma, which is heartbreaking. And it's true that the documentary doesn’t offer “proof,” per say (for example - video of the abuse), it does; however, offer two extremely believable, sincere testimonials from James Safechuck and Wade Robson, both of whom accused MJ of sexually molesting them for many years when they were young, Wade as early as seven years old. Seven years old! And the documentary does not make any case that MJ doesn’t know what he is doing. In fact, it suggests the exact opposite in that MJ is a totally self aware f**king monster. The grooming. The planning. The lying. The seducing. The gifts. Getting the kids to lie for you. Just about everything we know about child molesters is there and it was probably always there, and most of us ignored it - because Michael Jackson is awesome!
Corey Feldman and Macaulay Culkin, MJ's two famous childhood actor friends, have both repeatedly said that MJ never did anything inappropriate to them which, I actually beleive because they were both famous child actors at the time. Pedophiles target kids with no power. Feldman and Culkin had, at least a modicum amount of power which is probably why MJ didn't target them. Culkin, as far as I am aware, has yet to comment on the documentary, but Feldman pushed back calling it “one sided” and criticized the film because MJ has no chance to defend himself. But, that's not exactly true, is it? I mean, MJ had every chance to defend himself when he was alive and in fact, he did so because there were acusations and trials. It occurred to me that we’ve only heard MJ’s side of the story - over and over and over - that he's innocent, he would never hurt kids, the alleged "victims" were out for money and that the media lied about him because he's rich and weird. That's the story we've been told. Leaving Neverland is actually, the first time we’ve ever heard from any of the alleged victims. So, I kind of feel like, while it's true we don't have "proof" that MJ is guilty or innocent - we've heard his side of things - that he's an altruistic angel and does nothing wrong and is the target of a smear campaign. And now we've finally heard from two of the alleged victims. And they are very, very compelling.
Feldman, himself an alleged victim of sexual abuse, quickly backtracked his early defense of MJ, telling CNN:
“I cannot in good consciousness defend anyone who’s being accused of such horrendous crimes, but at the same time, I’m also not here to judge him, because, again, he didn’t do those things to me and that was not my experience … It comes to a point where, as an advocate for victims, as an advocate for changing the statutes of limitations to make sure that victims’ voices are heard, it becomes impossible for me to stay virtuous and not at least consider what’s being said and not listen to what the victims are saying … As I’m watching it [the Leaving Neverland documentary], I’m going, ‘This doesn’t make sense to me. This isn’t the guy that I knew. But look, I’m a guy that at 14 years old was molested, did have a pedophile completely lie to me about who he was. I trusted him. I believed in him as a friend, and I thought he was a good person, and then he molested me. It all proves that I’m not the best judge, and that’s why I shouldn’t be the judge in this situation, and especially given the fact that I’m so close to [Jackson].”
Jackson still has his defenders. He always will. I used to be one of them. Not so much any longer. I mean, MJ was weird and rich and was an easy target and his estate is worth … God only knows … a couple of billion dollars? That, right there, is motive. So, I feel that I really understand all the reasons people don’t want to believe that, Michael Jackson, the best selling recording artist of all time - is a pedophile. I really do understand the reasons for doubt, but - I no longer believe any of them.
Not one bit.
I am probably like you in that - I hardly ever watch the Emmy Awards. And why is that? Well, for starters there was a run of 20 years where the exact same network shows won year after year. And if it wasn’t the exact same show it was, well, kind of the same type of show. Hill Street Blues, LA Law, NYPD Blue, The Practice, West Wing, the Sopranos. Seriously, that was like - 20 years! The same shows.
And what about those same 20 years in comedy? Well - Cheers, Murphy Brown and Frasier basically dominated from 83-98. Fifteen years and three shows pretty much won year after year.
And that gets pretty dull.
Don’t get me wrong. The morning after the Emmy’s I would always check in to see who won. But I don’t think I saw the show once between maybe 1988 and 2005. Or maybe I saw it once, or twice. But not often.
And that seems to be par for the course for most Americans. Now, keep in mind that the Emmy awards never kept track of viewers until 1990 and for about a decade viewership remained consistently within the 15-20 million range; however, ever since Ryan Seacrest took over the Emmy awards in 2007 (where The Sopranos and 30 Rock won top honors) the Emmys have struggled to get more than 12 million viewers.
There was one highlight in 2013 where show host Neil Patrick Harris brought in almost 18 million viewers (I watched that one!) but for the most part viewership has been declining for the past decade.
This seems odd to me. Once the “Golden Age of Television” began, about - ten years ago, I assumed that a wider variety of nominated shows would bring in a wider audience. For those not in the know, the “Golden Age of Television” has kind of universally been known as the rise of the cable programing and the decline of network TV all within the past decade.
Basically, all it suggests is that extremely high quality, high concept, original and sophisticated TV is universally found on cable stations these days, with the networks picking up a rare gem but usually floundering in the dark with dead fish, after dead fish.
Again, I assumed that a wider net cast by the Emmys would pull in a bigger catch. But, I was wrong. (And enough with the fish metaphors).
The most Emmy nominations by network for 2018 (2017 was similar with Netflix and HBO swapping places):
Wow. So Netflix received almost as many nominations as all three major networks combined. Of course, with the amount of original content that Netflix pumps out, I guess I am not surprised (I confess I get a little overwhelmed when decided what to watch on Netflix). But still. How long are the networks going to broadcast the Emmy awards when the prime time networks hardly win any Emmys?
In the past ten years, all the best drama winners have been from cable stations (mainly AMC and HBO). Best variety show has been a cable show since 2003 (Comedy Central has dominated this category until HBO took over very recently). Admittedly, 6 of the past 10 comedy winners were from the networks but that was because Modern Family won for 5 years in a row until Veep (HBO) took over for three years. Glancing over all acting categories I would say there is a pretty even mix of network to cable stations winning.
So, yes, there is a network that wins here there and everywhere but those number dwindle as the years pass. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see where this is heading.
Anyway, it has been reported everywhere that this year was the lowest rated Emmy awards ever. I don’t know why. Perhaps audiences have grown tired of the same old cable shows winning again and again. And I guess I can’t blame them. It’s the very same reason I stopped watching in the first place.
Also, it should be noted. I didn’t watch the Emmy awards this year, either. But the morning after I looked over the winners and I did watch the opening monologue, which I thought that was pretty good. So I attached it.
And for those that are interested in such things, here is a list of all the nominations and winners:
Louie Anderson," Baskets"
Alec Baldwin, "Saturday Night Live"
Tituss Burgess, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Brian Tyree Henry, "Atlanta"
Tony Shalhoub, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
Kenan Thompson, "Saturday Night Live"
Henry Winkler, "Barry" *WINNER
Zazie Beetz, "Atlanta"
Alex Borstein, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" *WINNER
Aidy Bryant, "Saturday Night Live"
Betty Gilpin, "GLOW"
Leslie Jones, "Saturday Night Live"
Kate McKinnon, "Saturday Night Live"
Laurie Metcalf, "Roseanne"
Megan Mullally, "Will & Grace"
Antonio Banderas, "Genius: Picasso"
Darren Criss, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" *WINNER
Benedict Cumberbatch, "Patrick Melrose"
Jeff Daniels, "The Looming Tower"
John Legend, "Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert"
Jesse Plemons, "USS Callister (Black Mirror)"
Jessica Biel, "The Sinner"
Laura Dern, "The Tale"
Michelle Dockery, "Godless"
Edie Falco, "Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders"
Regina King, "Seven Seconds" *WINNER
Sarah Paulson, "American Horror Story: Cult"
Anthony Anderson, "Black-ish"
Ted Danson, "The Good Place"
Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Donald Glover, "Atlanta"
Bill Hader, "Barry" *WINNER
William H. Macy, "Shameless"
Pamela Adlon, "Better Things"
Rachel Brosnahan, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" *WINNER
Allison Janney, "Mom"
Issa Rae, "Insecure"
Tracee Ellis Ross, "Black-ish"
Lily Tomlin, "Grace and Frankie"
Sara Bareilles, "Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert"
Penelope Cruz, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"
Judith Light, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"
Adina Porter, "American Horror Story: Cult"
Merritt Wever, "Godless" *WINNER
Letitia Wright,"Black Mirror (Black Museum)"
Jeff Daniels, "Godless" *WINNER
Brandon Victor Dixon,"Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert"
John Leguizamo, "Waco"
Ricky Martin, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"
Edgar Ramirez, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"
Michael Stuhlbarg, "The Looming Tower"
Finn Wittrock, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"
Jason Bateman, "Ozark"
Sterling K. Brown, "This Is Us"
Ed Harris, "Westworld"
Matthew Rhys, "The Americans" *WINNER
Milo Ventimiglia, "This Is Us"
Jeffrey Wright, "Westworld"
Claire Foy, "The Crown" *WINNER
Tatiana Maslany, "Orphan Black"
Elisabeth Moss, "The Handmaid's Tale"
Sandra Oh, "Killing Eve"
Keri Russell, "The Americans"
Evan Rachel Wood, "Westworld"
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, "Game of Thrones"
Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones" *WINNER
Joseph Fiennes, "The Handmaid's Tale"
David Harbour, "Stranger Things"
Mandy Patinkin, "Homeland"
Matt Smith, "The Crown"
Alexis Bledel, "The Handmaid's Tale"
Millie Bobby Brown, "Stranger Things"
Ann Dowd, "The Handmaid's Tale"
Lena Headey,"Game of Thrones"
Vanessa Kirby, "The Crown"
Thandie Newton, "Westworld" *WINNER
Yvonne Strahovski, "The Handmaid's Tale"
"The Amazing Race"
"American Ninja Warrior"
"RuPaul's Drag Race" *WINNER
"At Home with Amy Sedaris"
"I Love You, America"
"Saturday Night Live" *WINNER
"Tracey Ullman's Show"
"Full Frontal with Samantha Bee"
"Jimmy Kimmel Live!"
"Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" *WINNER
"The Daily Show with Trevor Noah"
"The Late Late Show with James Corden"
"The Late Show with Stephen Colbert"
"The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" *WINNER
"Curb Your Enthusiasm"
"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" *WINNER
"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
"Game of Thrones" *WINNER
"The Handmaid's Tale"
"This Is Us"