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Blogcritic of the Month, November 2006: Diane Kristine

The purpose of this monthly series is to highlight an outstanding contributor to the site as chosen by the editorial staff. This designation is meant to recognize and celebrate the best of the best, those writers who not only shine by virtue of their talent, but whose ongoing participation gives all of us a reason to tune in each and every day. As new readers are continually discovering BC, we also hope to introduce these fine writers to a new audience.

Please join me in a virtual round of applause for this month’s honoree, Diane Kristine!

Readers who frequent BC’s popular TV section know Diane well. Her ongoing (and outstanding) coverage of FOX drama House has earned her a faithful readership, and keeps many fans abreast of what’s going on with their favorite flawed-but-brilliant hero. Diane’s writing mainly focuses her keen sense of observation on the media end of pop culture, and thus we have a treasure trove of articles on various aspects of television, film, and books, including some revealing interviews with media insiders, all written from the perspective of someone who has a foot planted firmly in the digital age. Combine her well-informed writing with her sense of humor and clear-eyed love for her subject matter, and you’ve got some great reading!

BC TV editor Jackie has this to say about Diane:

Diane Kristine rocks. When I heard that she would be Blogcritic of the month, I was as happy as if I had won something. From a purely editorial point of view, her articles are polished, professional, and a joy to edit (as I basically just have to read them). Ah, but as a reader, they're even better!

Although Diane writes about many things and does it so well, it's her television and film articles which I enjoy so much. From television reviews to industry news to film festivals, she's on the scene with timely reports and intriguing articles. Yes, I know she reviews books and such, but I can't imagine the Television/Film section without Diane. She's a jewel and I'm so glad that she's a part of Blogcritics! 

Jackie’s predecessor in the TV section, managing editor Joan Hunt, offered the following assessment:

Diane Kristine has tapped into more than just the psyche of an irascible TV character, she's peeled away many of the layers of one of the most complicated and thoroughly enjoyable TV shows ever, House. Not content to tackle one show, the writer formerly known as "deekay" has unraveled mysteries, exposed the creative minds behind shows too many of us have overlooked, and most importantly, she delivers all of it with a sense of wonder and an even greater sense of humor.

A real fan's fan, without ever lapsing into some sort of Oprah wannabe fawning, Diane Kristine makes me wish I could wrap my mind around television the way she does. Hell, she does the same thing with books. If not for her, I'd have never purchased A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. I'd like to think we share a slightly warped sense of the world and what's "funny", and would be the bestest of friends in real life, were we to live in the same city.

Am I a fan of Diane Kristine? You bet! You should be, too.

We asked Canadian-born Diane to share a bit of background info with us:

I grew up mostly in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where I complained about the winters and went to university for my highly practical English and linguistics degree. Before getting an only slightly more practical arts administration diploma and moving to the just-as-cold-only-they-won't-admit-it city of Calgary for a public relations internship, I spent a year in a French area of the equally frigid province of New Brunswick to teach English, though I had no teaching aspirations or talent.

After a few years of working in non-profit PR in Calgary, I took a vacation to the warmth of Peru and Bolivia, and as soon as I returned, started planning my next as-yet-unbudgeted vacation. I figured that was a pretty pathetic existence, and I'd always wanted to live in a different country, so I took my newly acquired traveler's Spanish ("cuanto questa?" "donde estan los baños?") and took off to temperate Mexico City for two years. I first worked, very briefly, as an English teacher, and then when I remembered I had no teaching aspirations or talent, as a culture and entertainment editor at an English-language newspaper.

When I was ready to return to Canada about four years ago, I ended up in the mercifully mild climate of Vancouver, where I write and edit websites and newsletters and the like, and wonder what comes next.

Q&A: The Serious Stuff

TV has gotten such a bum rap over the years, but we can't seem to turn the damn thing off. What is it about television that captures our imaginations so? Does it have any redeeming qualities, or is it like a sugar addiction — not good for you, but hard to resist nonetheless?

I think TV has a lot of redeeming qualities, and people who dismiss it as a wasteland today are watching the wrong shows — or not watching at all, and therefore making baseless arguments.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI've had periods in my life where I haven't owned a television, and people would ask "what do you do to relax when you're home, then?" I started saying that I sit on the couch and stare at the wall where the TV would be if I had one. I'm not sure they all recognized the sarcasm. Of course, there's more to life than television. But TV can add something to our lives, too.

There's a lot to be said for pure entertainment and escapism, the sheer joy a show can bring us, the relief from a bad day — or week, or month, or year. But there are also a lot of shows on today that provoke thought and debate, and help reflect or shape ideas and discussions in the real world. Shows that demonstrate another point of view we might not be exposed to in our everyday lives, that help us understand even just a little what it means to walk in someone else's shoes, to more fully understand the world outside our particular experiences.

Stephen King once said, in a different context, you don't get "social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture." That made me wish I liked his writing more. You don't become a more interesting or intelligent person by actively turning your back on one of the most powerful cultural influences of our generation.

I'm not suggesting everyone should watch TV if it's not their cup of tea. Or that it's good to prioritize television over social activities, or to watch with your brain disengaged, to let a television show – or anything or anyone else – do your thinking for you, or to allow your kids a TV in their bedrooms while you complain about sex and violence on TV corrupting them. But to be willfully ignorant and disdainful of the medium is not as admirable as some people seem to think it is.

Of course, not all TV is good. There's a lot of crap on the air, and some of it is dehumanizing crap. But I think we get the shows we deserve. That crap is more likely reflecting something unsavory about the world we live in than causing it.

And it's as unfair to judge TV by its lowest forms as it would be to judge literature by the same criteria. People who extol the virtues of reading over TV — and while I'm a TV fan, I could easily be one of them — often forget that there's a lot of crap in your local bookstore, too. And no, I don't mean Stephen King.

There's an off button on the remote control for a reason. Even a virtue can turn into a vice if we let it take control of our lives. As I learned from television, you can overdose on carrots or water. But that doesn't mean carrots or water or television in themselves are evil.

Well, come to think of it, carrots might be.

You're obviously a woman of discerning taste and intelligence. (Can you tell that I like the same shows that you do?) What qualities does a show need in order to hook you, and how's your crystal ball? Can you usually tell ahead of time if a new show is going to make it or not?

You sound like a wise woman with impeccable taste. As for what a show needs to hook me… I can't exactly pinpoint it. But in general, I like some humour in a drama, and some gravity in a sitcom. Some hint of intelligence or cleverness even in escapism. Strong characters more than twisty plots. I tend to avoid serialized shows, and end up watching them on DVD if they sound like something that will appeal to me. That's a bit of a personality quirk, since if I love a show, I have to watch every episode, and yet I can't commit to shows that require me to watch every episode. Oh, and Hugh Laurie as star. That'll hook me for sure.

My crystal ball is made of onyx, and I believe anyone who thinks they can accurately predict the success or failure of TV shows is deluded. Or has psychic powers they could put to better use.

Do you watch reality shows? Do you foresee an end to the reality show era any time soon?

I don't watch reality shows in general, though I've had short bursts of watching a few. I was hooked on about half a season of American Idol the year Fantasia won (I was rooting for her), and some of America's Next Top Model the year Adrienne Curry won (I was rooting for the runner up), and the first few episodes of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (yes, I cried).

It was like a crash course in Reality 101 for me. Before that, I'd been pretty dismissive of the genre without understanding its appeal, but now I think I at least get the hook. The situations are all so absurdly unreal that it really is about following the characters and the artificially heightened drama, which isn't so different from many scripted shows, really.

Except they take themselves so seriously when they're doing ridiculous things, like that ceremony at the end of so many of them, when The Bachelor hands out the roses, or Survivor does that thing with the torches, or Tyra Banks hands out photos, repeating the same phrase over and over again. They perform these bizarre rituals so solemnly and earnestly, it's both hilarious and cringe-inducing at the same time.

Reality TV is the opposite of the kind of entertainment I prefer. I like to be sucked into another world, but reality seems more like watching a manufactured world from an emotional distance. I guess I'm saying I find scripted shows more real than reality shows. Don't make me defend that, please.

There's a subset of reality shows I find mildly to hugely offensive, and it makes me sad there's an appetite for them, but there is, so I can't fault networks for making more of them. Again, we get what we deserve. I find The Bachelor and its spawn anti-romantic, and plastic surgery makeover/let's see what degrading thing you'll do for money shows depress me.

I don't see an end to reality shows. They're cheaper to produce than scripted shows, and huge audiences watch the various incarnations of them. Tastes tend to be cyclical, so maybe their popularity will wane a bit and sitcoms will rise to the top some day, but they're a cash cow for networks and escapism for many viewers. And even though they're not my taste, I have to grudgingly admit there's a place for that.

This season, you're keeping an eye on Studio 60, which doesn't seem to be doing very well. Given Sorkin's huge success with The West Wing, what do you think is up with this show? Wrong subject matter? Wrong time slot? Will there be a second season?

Now you're trying to make me cry. I think a second season would be a miracle given the declining ratings. I'm crossing my fingers and toes for it to even make it through the first season. I hope NBC will at least try a different time slot, a cushy one with a strong, compatible lead-in. (Where and what? I have no idea. That's why network programmers make the big bucks.) I haven't heard they're even considering that, but they invested a lot in the show, and hopes were so high initially, I want to believe they won't give up on it quickly. Please?

Going back to that crystal ball, who would have predicted the success of The West Wing? At the time, people were saying "who's going to care about behind the scenes of politics?" Now, they're saying no one cares about behind the scenes of TV. Aaron Sorkin tried it before with Sports Night, and that wasn't a huge success either. But audiences care unexpectedly about the oddest things, and I don't think the setting is the primary reason people aren't tuning in, or are leaving in droves after watching it initially.

I've heard a lot of criticisms about Studio 60 that I can't necessarily argue against, except to say they don't bother me. There does seem to be something about the subject matter that turns people off. I don't think it's strictly the setting, but I think it's partly because it hasn't transcended the setting the way The West Wing did – it's a workplace drama, but the issues aren't translatable to the average viewer's experience. But I don't need to relate to issues, as long as I find them interesting. Some people don't like how the characters take their comedy show so seriously. But I think it's realistic and appropriate that they do. Some don’t find the snippets of that comedy show funny enough. But I either find them funnier than the average person, or I'm not bothered because it's background colour, not something I focus on.

I love the characters, the issues, the dialogue, even the underlying message – entertainment is important and a barometer of our times, even if it's just a sketch comedy show. And Matthew Perry is surprisingly dreamy. But I'm keeping my expectations low for the show's longevity.

How do you think the Internet has changed television and our relationship to it?

It's in the process of significantly changing television and our relationship to it, though us heavy Internet users tend to overestimate how far it's come already. The average TV viewer still watches the show on their set at the appointed time and moves on with their life.

TiVo — heck, even VCRs — already started the trend towards audiences feeling a sense of entitlement to on-demand programming, and the Internet is another big step in that direction, with episodes available to purchase, download, or watch online. The TV broadcast is still all-important though, with ratings and ad prices and therefore, whether the show lives or dies is tied to the original on-air showing. But I think that's going to have to change as more people use the alternate (legal) methods of seeing shows.

The Internet also creates a sense of community around shows, either through official, network-driven activities like the Lost online extras, or through discussion boards and fan sites. That's really changed how programs are marketed by networks, by forcing them to consider how all these elements could work together, and also by tapping into the online fandom and online media to sell their programming.

The Internet can help create a loyal audience by giving them a meeting place and some fuel for their fandom, and then that fan activity is also tangible evidence of a loyal audience. Fan-created buzz might even help lower-rated shows like Scrubs and Veronica Mars survive. My (not really serious) theory is that the CW hasn't cancelled Veronica Mars yet because they're afraid of the fury of Television Without Pity posters.

There's a great photo of you on your own site doing some whitewater kayaking. Clearly you're not 100% couch potato. What else does the TV diva do in her spare time?

I have to admit the whitewater kayaking was a one-time occurrence, but it makes for a cool action shot. I have this small adventurous streak that makes me want to try almost anything once, a streak that sometimes wins out over my larger cowardly streak. I came back saying I had a blast… and I'm never doing it again. Next year, I'll try rafting. It seemed tamer.

Many of my hobbies are similar to my job, which is a bit of an issue – I try to mix it up and step away from the computer sometimes, too. I'm the volunteer website editor for my professional association. I edit the TV, Eh? site, which provides links to existing content on Canadian television programs. I write and blog, of course.

Outside the house, I love live theatre, and I volunteer with the ballet (though I'm woefully ignorant of ballet, to tell the truth – I'd been looking for a theatre company to volunteer with when I first got to Vancouver, but the ballet returned my call).

Part of the reason I picked Vancouver as my home is that it's so pretty, with the mountains and ocean and forests, so I try to get out and enjoy it now and then by hiking and boating occasionally, though I'm not an outdoorsy, granola-crunching Vancouverite by nature.

I love traveling, and while I haven't done anything very exotic lately, I try to take small trips whenever I can.

I started playing volleyball again when I moved here, after not playing since high school. I didn't really know anyone, thought a team sport would be a good way to socialize, and volleyball was the only sport I'd ever showed any inkling of talent for (which isn't to say I’m actually talented). It turns out I love it as much as I remembered, and did meet some nice people.

But I'm a bit of a loner and homebody at heart, and some of my favourite evenings are spent watching TV or DVDs, or reading a book, or writing my thoughts on whatever I'm watching or reading to post on Blogcritics.

Q&A: The Fun Stuff

What book/CD/DVD do you have more than one copy of, in case something happens to the original one?

Anne of Green Gables, though I haven't read it in years. When I was a kid, I used to read it in the bathtub and outside, and lend it to friends, and it would fall apart or get lost after a while. My grandmother gave me the entire Lucy Maud Montgomery series she owned, hardcover books from the 1930s, so I still have those, plus a couple of the beat-up paperbacks that were more disposable.

If you had to pick one sense to do without, which of your five senses would it be?

I'll say smell. It might lead to unintentional personal hygiene problems, but that would only be a problem for the people who could still smell.

What do you wish they'd do a series about on TV?

A snarky but brilliant doctor. My dreams are fulfilled.

If you could, would you swap sexes for a week?

Sure! I'm always up for a challenge.

What do you think you'd learn if you could swap to the opposite sex?

That women really can be confusing. And what's so funny about the Farrelly Brothers' movies.

What sports team will you love until the day you die?

I'm not much of a sports fan, but I used to be fanatical about the Edmonton Oilers. I grew up in the days of five Stanley Cups, with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, etc., and I had the biggest junior high school crush on Andy Moog. I still have a team program from 1984 with most of the team's autographs in it. So even though I haven't lived there for over ten years, and don't follow hockey anymore, I always cheer for them. When I realize they're playing, that is.

What's one sign that you're a total nerd?

Just one? Well, I keep trying to understand the basics of quantum physics. I've read popular science books where I'm smiling and nodding and thinking how cool it is until I get about half way through and realize it makes no sense. A physicist friend once told me there are gaps in the theory and no one really understands it, and another scientist person said her physics professor told her if you think you understand, that's your clue you don't. So I have almost admitted defeat.

What's the first book you recall reading?

It wouldn't have been Anne of Green Gables, but that's the first one I remember really speaking to me. I wasn't an orphan, and I had an older brother who was always there for me, and I didn't have red hair, but I felt like she and I were kindred spirits.

What magazines do you subscribe to?

I don't. I tend to read anything newsy and magazine-y online now. I miss getting something glossy in the mail, but it came time to streamline, and I tend to move a lot, so the change of addresses got annoying.

Who is your favorite writer?

If I had to pick just one, and it kills me, I'd say Anne Tyler. I've read every novel she's written – and she's prolific – and eagerly await her next.

Who is your least favorite writer?

I couldn't think of a least favourite ever, but my least favourite writer of those whose books I own is Ernest Hemingway. I have a collection of his books I picked up at a garage sale because I couldn't resist a bargain on pretty old books – coincidentally, hardcover books from the 1930s – but while I love some of his short stories, I don't enjoy his novels.

Do you have a favorite Blogcritic?

Brandon Valentine and Victor Lana have writing styles I admire. And many others who I will feel guilty for leaving out about two seconds after this is published.

What do you think is the best part of Blogcritics?

Having a venue to write about random subjects that appeal to me, and gives me the opportunity to cover interesting events, and causes cool people to say yes to my interview requests.

What song is stuck in your head right now?

"Post Punk Progression" by Snow Patrol, because it was playing on my drive home and it's so repetitive. Except it always gets stuck in my head wrong. The first few times I heard it, it sounded like "You won't be around forever, you've got crab-like little hands." (It's actually "you've got to grab life with both hands.")

What do you have set as the home page in your browser?

I use Firefox, which lets you have more than one, so the first tab is Google, second is IMdB, and third is my own site, TV, Eh? The first two because they're more signs I'm a total nerd: I have to look stuff up if I start to idly wonder why the sky is blue, or where I've seen that actor before. And I try to edit the TV, Eh? site every day, so I like the reminder when I open my browser.

Who was your idol as you were growing up?

I didn't really have an idol, unless you count Anne Shirley (as in, of Green Gables).

What are three items you would need to have on a desert island?

An endless supply of paper and pens, a magical iPod whose battery never dies, and, not to be a crazy cat lady, but I'll say my poor old cat Oliver, since he's come with me everywhere else in my adult life and I couldn't abandon him now. Plus he could revert to his stray tomcat ways and catch me some rodents and birds. Yum. I'm assuming I have the necessities of life covered, of course. Food, fresh water, and shelter are probably slightly more important.

What's the best place to get a meal in your neck of the woods?

Not my kitchen, that's for sure. There's lots of great restaurants around here, but there's a little hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant near where I work, with delicious, cheap lunch specials. We go there all the time and I still crave it all the time.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

All people would bend to my will. But I'd only use my powers for good.

Diane Picks Diane

These are Diane's favorites from among her pieces. Do yourself a favor and check out her BC writer page for more great reading.

Constructing House: An Interview with House Writer Lawrence Kaplow

I obviously love the show, so it was a huge treat to talk about it with one of the talented and funny people behind it. Plus, I had fun lacing the article with construction terms.

Cultivating a Cult Audience: An interview with Scrubs Creator Bill Lawrence:

Besides my affection for the show, I enjoyed this one partly because he had some interesting things to say about appealing to a niche audience.

The Invisible Networks: Canadian TV and its companion, The Invisible Audience: Canadian TV

These were the impetus for me starting the TV, Eh? What's Up in Canadian TV website, which has led to some interesting experiences.

TV Thinks Outside the Box

I was in TV geek heaven covering the Banff World Television Festival, and I was especially interested in discussions about how the Internet is affecting TV content, marketing, and distribution.

And now for something light and silly, I Am Not Superstitious – Knock on Wood was fun to write, and captures a contradictory part of my personality.

About Lisa McKay

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