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Debut of

Geoff Wood

I was pretty jazzed last week when Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman finally launched, a sports and pop-culture media play that's been in the works for awhile. Simmons, the "Sports Guy" columnist from ESPN's Page 2 and former Jimmy Kimmel writer, is one of my favorite podcasters. I don't read his columns, mainly because ESPN sucks at RSS feeds, but really enjoy the aforementioned podcast. His topics cover the full range of entertainment and pop culture, with special emphasis on TV & movies, comedy and, obviously, sports. 

Despite his nickname, i actually prefer his non-sports topics. It's a mix between the fact that I can't stand his favorite teams (Boston), he can't stand mine (Minnesota), the fact that I don't bet on games (gambling odds are a frequent go-to), and that he spends way too much time (read: any time) on the NBA and NHL.

Or, its just that I find the pop culture (read: typically non-sports or at least not game analysis) more compelling. Particular favorites come to mind with guests like Disney's Michael Eisner and SNL's Jason Sudeikis (mostly about comedy - who knew he was George Wendt's (Norm from Cheers!) nephew - but also had a sports-bend to it).

My favorite guest is Mr. Klosterman, whose books I've blogged about here several times over the years. I particularly enjoy the way the two play off each other on the podcast - one or the other throwing out a hypothetical, then the two debating it. Simmons typically takes the role of the everyman in the conversation while Klosterman takes a deep analytic dive into the subject matter. Both are enjoyable, and seem to work whether the topic is music, reality TV (something I don't watch but do enjoy listening about) or, yes, sports.

I'm excited to see how this interaction, that I enjoy so much in podcast form, translates to the writtern web.

As a sidenote, as part of a media startup myself, it was pretty exciting to read Simmons' intro to the website (see Welcome to Grantland). His enthusiasm was actually contagious. As the business guy for our little startup, I also appreciated the way he was able to bring forth the core values of their company (or at least their site) in a way their customers can easily understand:

We had four goals for this site. The first was to find writers we liked and let them do their thing. The second was to find sponsors we liked and integrate them within the site — so readers didn't have to pay for content, and also, so we didn't have to gravitate toward quantity over quality just to chase page views. The third was to take advantage of a little extra creative leeway for the right reasons and not the wrong ones. And the fourth was to hire the right blend of people — mostly young, mostly up-and-comers, all good people with good ideas who aren't afraid to share them.

There are a lot of differences between our work at Silicon Prairie News (foremost among them, we're not backed by, which is part of ESPN, which is owned by Disney, which is ginormous company) but it will be interesting to watch the eventual success or failure of Grantland from a professional perspective.

From a fans perspective, it will be fun to read - and listen - along the way.

Note: some folks were calling for Grantland's demise already on launch day. (read: The Atlantic's Bill Simmons's Grantland is Doomed Even Before Launch)

Of Chuck Klosterman and Curb Your Enthusiasm

Geoff Wood

Chuck Klosterman

It just so happens that a few hours after writing the post yesterday about how I don’t find Larry David to be funny that I read an essay by Chuck Klosterman(1)that mentions David’s comedy in his new book Eating the Dinosaur.

This particular essay, entitled “Ha ha,” he said. “Ha ha.”, is about laugh tracks, the structure of sitcom television, and the human response to comedy.

You could say he’s not a fan of laugh tracks:

“I can’t think of anything philosophically stupider than laugh tracks”

Among other things, Klosterman opines that by omitting laugh tracks, which are used to cue the viewing audience on when a scene is funny, in “sophisticated” comedies, they are guilty of virtually the same ploy. The lack of laugh track is used to cue the audience that their show is “smarter, hipper, and less predictable than traditional versions of the genre”.

To (continue to) quote Chuck:

“Virtually every high end, “sophisticated” comedy of the early twenty-first century – Arrested Development, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Simpsons, 30 Rock – is immune to canned laughter, and it’s difficult to imagine any of those shows supplemented with mechanical, antiseptic chuckling”.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is, of course, the show that I gave up on, yesterday, because I didn’t find it funny. I wanted to like it since it’s critically acclaimed and, as signaled by its lack of laugh track, supposedly “smarter, hipper, and less predictable” than other comedies.

But it IS predictable and that’s what drew my ire to begin with, to quote me:

“Unfortunately, what I found was that almost every episode features virtually the exact same plot:

  1. Larry does something stupid
  2. Larry tries to get out of it
  3. Larry argues with his wife and/or friend
  4. Larry seemingly diffuses the situation through lies and/or jokes
  5. Larry's stupid move from item #1 comes back to get him.”

Oh well. I know that lots of people love the show (such as my friend Matt who commented on my earlier post in Facebook “Sorry man, you are crazy. Curb is an awesome show. David is a genius.”) and that I’m in the minority. I’ll use that as a cue to move on to other topics. 


(1)I’ve been a fan of Chuck Klosterman for a few years and will write more about Eating the Dinosaur when I finish it later this week. I refer to Klosterman as a pop culture columnist, though he seems to be the type of guy who would object to any label. The insider cover jacket blurb calls the book “amateur anthropology for the present tense” and I like that description. He’s also my inspiration for using footnotes while blogging.

Paul Shirley writes a book (and his column)!

Geoff Wood

I saw a link today to former-Iowa Stater(1) Paul Shirley's ESPN blog. Last I knew he had decided to drop that literary pursuit because it was hampering his chances of continuing to play professional basketball - something or other about not being serious about the sport.

Today's blog is a must read. He retells the story of the Elite 8 loss to Michigan State in 2000, the game which most fans of either team will remember as the best game of the tournament(2). For those that may not remember towards the end of a tight game Paul fouled out on the infamous "blarge"(3) double foul, Coach Larry Eustachy got tossed for unleashing a tirade of fraks(4) on the deserving officials and the good guys eventually lost the game. Post-blarge Paul had a bit of an emotional breakdown that, in Paul's words, became "twisted because the events quickly became part of Cyclone Nation lore".

You see Paul cried. He cried a lot. He cried in such a way that it became the visualization of that game nationwide. I don't blame him because that game tore out the heart of every single person who doesn't know the words(5). Luckily 99.9% of watched that game rather than played in it and our emotion wasn't media worthy. If you're interested you can see Paul cry on YouTube, in several pics at the ESPN link, or at the NCAA Hall of Champions(6) next time you visit us here in Indianapolis.

Incidently, I started to write this post because I learned through the ESPN column that Paul is soon to release a book and that's pretty exciting (note the post's title). I ordered it from Amazon as soon as I got home from work.

You'll note that the forward is by Chuck Klosterman who just happens to be my favorite author of late. As the kids say: "boo-ya!"

I'm impressed by the craft of book writing and hope to someday count myself amongst those who've been published. After all, I learned yesterday that I have verbal skills in the 90th percentile of those that are interested in graduate management admissions.

(1)Paul's kind of had a bit of a divorce from Cyclone-fandom in the last two years or so. He's tried to minimialize his connection with our school in his writing (so I doubt he appreciates my label) and no Iowan appreciates a brush off in the national media. (2) It was ridiculous that ISU didn't get a 1 seed, if they had it would've met in the title game (3)Never called before, never called again (4)Battlestar Galactica's f-bomb (5)to this stupid frakin' song! (6)They have each year's "one shining moment video" on playback. I even tear up a bit when I watch 2000

Super Colts!

Geoff Wood

The above was the IndyStar headline following the Colts win over the Patriots in the AFC championship game last week.

I'm not particularly a Colts fan but don't real have a dog in any AFC fight so I figured it was time to get on the bandwagon - for this year anyway. After all, we do live here and that I believe that is was one of the allowables for altering sports affiliations(1).

It's really interesting to be this close to the biggest event in sports. The Vikes came close twice in not-so-recent years (1998 and 2000 losses in the NFC championship game) but I've never lived in the Twin Cities, so it's not quite the same. The closest thing may have been the Elite 8 run by Larry Eustachy's Cyclone in the 2000 NCAA tourney(2). I was on South Padre Island with 46 of my closest brothers(3) for Spring Break and the Cyclones were the talk of the dance with a legitate shot to win it all.

Its interesting to sit back and take a subject look at it how this event is affecting the city as an outsider. I've seen the minor things like the "Go Colts!" signs on most businesses and the Colts tie on our Senior Minister tonight at church(4). I've also seen the ridiculous like the morning weather man wearing a Dwight Freeney jersey over his suit while misrepresenting the amount of snow we're going to get. There's also some cute stories out there like the alcohol distributer that gave everyone the day off the day after the Super Bowl(5).

I'm only in town a couple days this week but I'm looking forward to what other things people come up with.(6)

(1) Supporting the Colts for two weeks in no way affects my allegance to the Vikings. I even wore my Kevin Williams jersey to the gamewatch against the Patriots - much to the confusion of the other attendees. (2) I realize the NCAA tourney is a collegiate basketball event not pro football but it's one of my top five teams/leagues to follow (Iowa State/NCAA Football, Vikings NFL, Iowa State/NCAA basketball, Twins/MLB, Iowa State/NCAA Wrestling in pretty much that order) and I'm sure I'd be elated by a national/super bowl/world series title in any of them. (3) 2 or 3 annoying girls came, too. (4) He lead a prayer for the Colts win the playoffs started - which is odd since I know that he spent most of his life in South Dakota. (5)they each got a six pack of Blue Moon, too. (6) I'm reading a new book by my favorite author Chuck Klosterman who footnotes everything and I thought I'd try it out for a while.