As most every literary geek I know, I spent a chunk of my morning watching the debut episode of Titlepage.tv, the new Internet video program where Dan Menaker interviews a slew of writers in alleged round table format. And like most every literary geek I've talked to this morning, I've got criticisms. Lots and lots of them, alas. But a 1000-word essay on why it sucks somehow seems a bit over-the-top, especially when the idea is a good one, even if the execution wasn't nearly so. Instead, here are ten ways the folks at Titlepage.tv can improve things so that subsequent episodes are far livelier:
Have the guests introduce themselves. And by that I mean, say your name, title of the book, a line or two tops on what it's about. Menaker's long-winded introductions with static shots of the author stops the action cold. Keep it moving.
TV-friendly clothing for the authors. Yes, this is airing as a taped show on the Internet but TV rules still apply. Richard Price and orange do not mix. Charles Bock wearing a rock t-shirt is fine; Charles Bock wearing a rock t-shirt underneath a True Value shirt, not so much.
Bring in the group discussion early. Unlike Mark Athitakis, I prefer a mix of conversation over the one-on-ones if you're going to have a number of guests on board. Otherwise, what's the point of having them all sit there, lame-duck fashion, while the host talks for ten minutes to each writer one at a time? Maybe this would work better if everyone was on a big long couch, which brings me to...
Ditch the uncomfortable chairs. They are ugly, blindingly white and look terrible for everyone to sit on. Would Aerons or the current equivalent have been so bad? What is wrong with a couch? Even if the intimacy is totally false, viewers want to see some approximation, not this awkward feeling.
Chop it to half an hour. As much as I love books and authors and q&as, my attention span is crap - unless the host is really, really engaging. So far, Menaker is not, and his lack of experience as an interviewer comes through in choppy pauses, too much time spent using the book in question as a crutch and a general lack of engagement. If he'd trusted his instincts, or more accurately trusted the writers to talk to each other, this program would have been far more compelling. But if they keep this format, then a half an hour's about my limit, and I suspect the limit of others as well.
Hire a better cameraperson. The weird camera angles, bizarre closeups and endless boom shots didn't exactly help my viewing experience. Filmmaking is rhythm and timing; a little more of it would have helped a great deal.
More conflict. Was I the only one who thought it was a lost opportunity after Charles Bock confessed he was "Richard Price's nightmare?" I wanted to hear more about this, get Price and Bock talking about the pros and cons of hipsterism. But no. Menaker needed to stick to his script. Too bad.
Way fewer book shots. Viewers get the point. It's like being at a convention panel when the author holds up the book constantly as a bid for self-promotion. It doesn't work then, it doesn't work now.
A more inviting set. Yes, I realize Titlepage is on a budget and they are lucky to get any sort of studio. But maybe the look of it with the books hanging off the ceiling didn't exactly foster entertaining conversation? Hmm.
More fun. This is Titlepage's biggest failing. Where was the humor? Richard Price is a funny guy but hardly any of his sense of humor came through. Charles Bock tried but he struggled to fit in. Choi and Harrison could have been more entertaining had they been given the chance. Menaker was so preoccupied with being serious that he missed opportunity after opportunity for memorable entertainment. Yes, it's great to have authors talking about books but in order to rise way above the noise, that signal had better be really, really dynamic.
I freely accept that Titlepage is a work in progress, but hearing that Episode 1 was shot *after* Episode 2 doesn't really fill me with hope that the stiffness, the crappy camera shots and the sheer lack of fun will disappear by then....