1. An interview with the actor who played Ziggy in The Wire

    Posted January 21, 2015 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    I enjoyed this interview with James Ransone, who played Ziggy in Season 2 of The Wire.

    As every fan of The Wire knows, the second season was the show’s apogee. It put the larger-than-life characters (Omar, Stringer) to one side and focused instead on the struggles of the working class community around the Baltimore dockyards. But although those struggles might initially seem dull compared with the high-stakes gangland drama of Season 1, the second outing of The Wire is the clear winner in terms of high Shakespearean tragedy.

    The only people who really dislike the second season are white people. People got mad that they moved it out of the hood. And look, there might be an element that the character is annoying, but there’s that feeling of familiarity too. That the blue collar worker might hit a little close to home rather than the projects of East Baltimore. Ziggy is more like a family member you might have; there’s not this cognitive dissonance. You’re much more likely to know someone like Ziggy than to know someone like Omar.

    Ziggy might well be the Jar Jar Binks of The Wire, but he’s a deeply tragic character, and it must have been weird for the actor who played him to only start being recognised on the streets 6 years after the show originally aired.

  2. Towards a truly social TV experience (part 1)

    Posted November 24, 2010 in media  |  2 Comments so far

    When the concept of on-demand television was still new and exciting, it was tempting to think it might lead to the demise of the mass synchronous experience that was broadcast TV. After all, what value could broadcast TV deliver that on-demand services like the iPlayer couldn’t? And was that value really worth the inconvenience and inflexibility it imposed on the viewer, who had to be in a set place at a set time to view the programme? Apart from sport and news, would anyone really care about the transmission times of programmes once on-demand TV had taken off?

    By now we know that, yes, people do still care about the transmission times of TV programmes, and the synchronous viewing experience of broadcast TV can have a value that justifies the burdens it places on the viewer. But this isn’t because on-demand hasn’t taken off. On-demand services have transformed the way we view television, but the broadcast TV experience has a new lease of life too.

    The internet, unsurprisingly, is the driving force behind both on-demand’s success and the renaissance in broadcast viewing. But two intertwined yet distinct “strands” of the internet are at work here.

    With on-demand, it’s the internet’s infrastructure – content delivery networks, consumer ISPs, the computers and set-top boxes found in the homes of viewers. The nuts and bolts of the internet’s growth have enabled on-demand services and the design of products like the iPlayer.

    But with broadcast TV, it’s not so much the technological or infrastructural “strand” of the internet as its social layer – social use of the internet among the wider public has grown hugely in the last five years. At the same time social interactions have accelerated, becoming more synchronous and less like the newsgroup / messageboard model of old. We post less words, more frequently, and the result is a far more conversational mode of online interaction.

    This has introduced a new dimension to the experience of watching broadcast TV. Viewers might not be physically connected to one another, as they were in the heyday of TV with the whole family gathered in the living room. But they’re connected to hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of others, watching the same show as they are. Some of these people are friends and others are strangers, but all are in reach – all are potential contributors to a conversation about the programme. Even the viewer sat alone in their living room can feel connected and involved as they watch, in a way that they couldn’t before.

    So the internet has brought about an alternative to broadcast TV while giving it a new lease of life at the same time. And it’s not just geeks that are engaged in this new way of TV viewing – if you need proof of this, a cursory glance at the #xfactor hashtag on Twitter should do it. The public has raced ahead of the technology here, using whatever gadgets come to hand to keep up with the conversations. No tool or “product” designed for social TV viewing is particularly prominent, it’s something that the public just does, in its own way.

    Is this going to change? Will technology catch up with the public – will new services specifically designed for social TV viewing come along, will they work, and will they bridge the gap between the on-demand and broadcast experiences? I’ll explore these questions in more detail in part 2 of this post.