Monday, April 12, 2010

Time for an "Amazing Race" Makeover

Obviously, I'm a fan of The Amazing Race. This website got its name from one of the funniest meltdowns in the history of the show:

But that clip of Colin & Christie is from Season 5. I'd argue that the show never fully recovered its original appeal after the disastrous Family Edition (Season 8). I'm sticking with the current season (16), but I don't enjoy it as much as I used to, and I know I'll forget most of the teams once the season ends.

Despite new locations and challenges every week, the show has become predictable. After inevitably getting lumped together on the same flight, leads evaporate and teams execute their Roadblocks and Detours week after week.

The new elements added over the seasons, like U-Turns and Speed Bumps, haven't improved the show. If anything, the U-Turn typically hastens the exit of strong or controversial teams, making the race less competitive and the show less interesting for viewers.

The show's casting formula doesn't help. Casting easily labeled pairs -- "The Brothers," "The Gay Couple," The Mother-Daughter Team" -- surely forces producers to reject some compelling teams each season because their role has already been filled by another team.

It's time to give The Amazing Race a face lift. First, the casting process has to change. I don't care if the season is made up of nothing but teams of siblings or friends who are dating on-and-off; I just want to watch the best teams. Qualities like humor and competitiveness should trump filling certain demographic niches.

To that end, I propose winnowing down the number of teams. Instead of casting eleven teams, cast eight teams but make every other leg a non-elimination leg, which would still allow for twelve episodes per season. Even on a known non-elimination leg, teams will race hard for the time advantage of finishing in first place and the associated prizes. Drama needn't be sacrificed.

The biggest improvement the show could make would be to get rid of the tasks and transportation issues that seem to level the playing field every leg. Whether its arriving at a challenge location hours before it opens or boarding the one-and-only flight available with the rest of the teams, these equalizers remove any advantage for the team that finished the previous leg in first place. Rarely is a team able to leap ahead by making a bold move in an airport (or fall out of contention like Charla & Mirna did in Season 5), so why not skip the airports all together?

These equalizers exist to make it easier for the production crews to organize tasks and get cameras and equipment where they need to be. The stress of losing a lead or having to sleep in a car is minor given all of the other sources of stress teams are subject to. It has nothing to do with making the leg more interesting for viewers.

To eliminate these equalizers and ease the strain on the production staff, I wish that all travel between locations would take place off camera. For example: after Leg #1 ends in Lisbon, the teams rest up and board the same flight to Moscow where Production Team 2 is waiting for them. Meanwhile, Production Team 1 flies to Tokyo to set up Leg #3.

Instead of teams starting the next leg 12 hours after they finished the previous leg, start each leg at a set time (7 a.m. perhaps). Give the teams a time advantage based on how far ahead of the last place team each pair finished, kind of like the staggered start used in the Tour de France.

Whether the time advantage is cumulative or based on a percentage of how much quicker each team finished doesn't really matter. But each leg should be designed so that it can be finished same day, avoiding boring down time as teams wait for someplace that's closed to open.

This redesigned format might make it hard to send teams on a round-the-world journey, but who cares? The show only mentions that aspect in the first and last episodes; Phil Keoghan doesn't hold up a map every week showing the teams' trans-global progress since from the start map. The whole season could be filmed in Europe or Africa and it wouldn't matter, so long as the locations are novel and the teams are interesting.

Without some changes, I don't know how much longer I can stick with the show. I've stopped watching additional online content and reading interviews with the eliminated teams because I just don't care about any of them. I don't even watch the commercials now that I have a DVR. If I'm going to watch The Amazing Race, I want to do so because it deserves my attention, not just out of a sense of nostalgia for the great show it used to be.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ox Notes: March 4, 2010

The subject of today's Ox Notes is Ox Notes itself. As of today, Ox Notes is shifting from regular posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays to more sporadic postings so that I can focus on other projects.

I'll still post here at My Ox Is Broken when the mood strikes and as news crops up closer to the premiere of Dancing with the Stars 10. I mean, is there any chance the celebs make it through preseason rehearsals without a serious injury?

In the meantime, the best place to follow me is on Twitter ( I also write weekly Bollywood movie reviews for Access Bollywood (

Here are a few sites I recommend for entertainment news:

Pure DwtS -- an excellent catalog of Dancing with the Stars news and commentary
People -- the best of the celebrity mags, especially their TV Watch blog
EW -- good for general TV news and home of Jeff Probst's Survivor blog, updated on Friday mornings
Reality Blurred -- a great site for reality TV news
The Watcher -- my favorite TV critic

Thanks for all of your comments and contributions during Ox Notes' three-year run. Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Dancing with the Stars 10 Cast Revealed

At last, the cast of Dancing with the Stars 10 has been revealed. Kudos to those of you who stuck with last night's Bachelor finale until the last 15 minutes of the show, when Tom Bergeron and Melissa Rycroft finally announced the names of the celebrity cast members. Here's the list:

Buzz Aldrin & Ashly Delgrosso

Pamela Anderson & Damien Whitewood

Erin Andrews & Maksim Chmerkovskiy

Shannen Doherty & Mark Ballas

Kate Gosselin & Tony Dovolani

Evan Lysacek & Anna Trebunskaya

Niecy Nash & Louis Van Amstel

Chad Ochocinco & Cheryl Burke

Jake Pavelka & Chelsie Hightower

Nicole Scherzinger & Derek Hough

Aiden Turner & Edyta Sliwinska

Overall, this is one of the strongest casts DwtS has had in years, at least in terms of name recognition. Aiden Turner is the least recognizable celeb, but he's a young, hunky English soap actor: red meat for the older, female DwtS demographic.

The two most cynical castings are Kate Gosselin and Jake Pavelka. Bachelor Jake is blatant ABC cross-promotion. Kate is currently one of the most reliable headline generators. From her perspective, DwtS is a much safer bet than trying to launch her own talk show or product line. Plus, it gives producers a chance to see her when she's not swamped by toddlers.

This is Evan Lysacek's trophy to lose, right? Olympians usually do well on DwtS -- figure skaters and gymnasts in particular -- and he won a freaking gold medal in figure skating two weeks ago! I'm not sure about Anna's freestyle choreography skills, thought, and that's the routine that ultimately decides the winner. If he was paired with Cheryl or Chelsie, I'd say victory was an absolute lock. But Evan's got enough relevant experience to make his input valuable.

As for the rest of the field, the three "sexy" couples -- Aiden & Edyta, Nicole & Derek and Erin & Maks -- could put up a fight. Then there are the wild cards like Jake & Chelsie, Ochocinco & Cheryl and Shannen & Mark who could be surprisingly entertaining.

I'm going to take Kate out of the running because she's paired with Tony, the pro partner equivalent of mirrorball kryptonite. Buzz is out because he's 80 (welcome back, Ashly!). Pam's out because she's with the new guy, Damien. And Niecy's out because she's a comedian, the profession that fares worst on DwtS. Still, I'm glad they included a funny woman this season, and I hope she sticks around a while.

Here's part one of Kate Gosselin's appearance on last night's episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live:

What do you think of the new cast?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ox Notes: February 25, 2010

Am I the only one surprised by the relative dearth of information about the Dancing with the Stars 10 cast? There have only been a handful of rumors, even though the announcement in only a few days away. Usually celebs are falling all over themselves to spill the beans.

One rumor that seems to be gaining traction regards Kate Gosselin. It makes sense for her to appear on DwtS because 1) she's co-hosted The View and has an existing relationship with ABC, and 2) she's not doing anything else (besides parenting eight kids, of course).

EW notes that gold medalist Evan Lysacek has expressed a desire to compete on DwtS, but I doubt it will be this season. After all, he needs to keep his schedule free for Evan Lysacek Day in Naperville.

By the way, kudos to Evgeni Plushenko for awarding himself the platinum medal after finishing second to Lysacek. I'm going to start campaigning for Naperville to hold a Evgeni Plushenko Day, too.

NBC reports that 174 million people have watched the Winter Olympics during its first 12 days.

Apparently, Melissa Rycroft hasn't secured the DwtS co-host gig after all, despite revealing the contestants during this Monday's Bachelor finale. Mel B did a screen-test for the job yesterday.

I'm setting my DVR now for Kathy Griffin's guest spot on Law & Order: SVU this coming Wednesday.

I'm also setting my DVR for Johnny Depp's appearance on 48 Hours Mystery on Saturday. Depp will speak on behalf of the "West Memphis Three", three men convicted of murder when they were teenagers despite an abundance of evidence pointing to their innocence.

On March 15, HGTV debuts the show Home Rules about a life coach who helps struggling families. Thus continues HGTV's slow metamorphosis from informative how-to channel into a family freak show network like TLC. I assume that series on room makeovers for child beauty queens and women who didn't know they were pregnant are already in development.

Cast your vote in E!'s March Madness-style bracket poll of TV's Top Couples. Riker & Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation for the win!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ox Notes: February 23, 2010

With less than one week until the cast of Dancing with the Stars 10 is announced, details about the new season emerge. Pro dancers Lacey Schwimmer and Jonathan Roberts announced via Twitter that they won't participate this season. Pure DwtS posted a summary of which twelve pros seem likely to compete in DwtS 10.

Pure DwtS also noted that the new cast members will be announced during Monday, March 1's Bachelor finale by Tom Bergeron and Melissa Rycroft. Does that mean Melissa's officially the new co-host?

DwtS pro Derek Hough got himself involved in the ongoing drama between British singer Cheryl Cole and her allegedly philandering husband, footballer Ashley Cole.

I'm loving Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, especially since I'm rooting for the Villains. People and EW interviewed the latest booted cast member, Stephenie LaGrossa. EW, as always, features great episode recaps and Jeff Probst's blog.

One thing I'm not loving is NBC's Olympic coverage. Besides the universally despised tape delay the network insists on using, even in the DVR era, I'm most disappointed in the network's Web coverage of events.

The event I've been most looking forward to -- the men's 4x10k cross-country relay -- takes place tomorrow at 1:15 CST, and it's not airing on any network. U.S. men's hockey, which normally airs on USA or MSNBC, is the Wednesday afternoon feature on NBC. Instead of airing the cross-country relay in the open timeslot, USA is airing a marathon of NCIS reruns.

Here's the really dumb thing. NBC's Olympic website is only streaming curling and hockey live, two events that already get live coverage on the main network or on cable. Why not use the website to broadcast events that won't be aired on TV? I'd even be willing to pay a small amount ($.99, a la iTunes) to watch a live stream of some of the cross-country relay.

Instead of making money off of me and other fans of sports in which the U.S. isn't competitive, either directly or via ad exposure, NBC forces fans to seek out international live streams on the Internet (bring on the Tim Horton's ads, Canadian Olympic coverage!).

NBC's Olympic broadcast contract runs out after 2012. I'm hopeful that a new network will embrace current technology and profit from making the Olympics more accessible to viewers.