Canned Questions and Interesting Insights

I’ve been following Alyssa Rosenberg’s work for years. One of the things that I love about her is her ability to not just report on camps across the aisle from her, but her inclination to understand them, explain them, and offer a sort of common ground or an olive branch.

Her latest piece that got me thinking is “Seven questions the entertainment industry needs to answer about rape,” inspired by the HBO’s president of programming’s squirmishness around the frequency of rape plots on the premium channel’s shows.

“It’s remarkable that public relations departments aren’t briefing network executives and talent about this question, which has come up at every press tour I’ve attended. If nothing else, better answers, no matter how canned they are, would help advance discussions about the depiction of sexual violence, instead of leaving us stuck in the same frustrating intellectual morass,” writes Rosenberg.

And so she offers them seven questions that they might prepare stock answers for.

On its face it goes against what a lot of journalists believe about the proper format for an interview; the interviewer is traditionally the one with the power and full forethought. But it also undermines the DC/gamergate/Ghost- bros’ argument that critics are only in it for the scoop, Dirty Laundry style. Here Rosenberg is saying—and showing—that critics are interested in getting to the heart of the issue. It’d be easy to write about yet another network exec who fumbled his answer to questions about sexual assault. It fits right into what’s expected; fuels that “outrage culture” we hear so much about.

And yet, she takes the time to offer up some prepared questions for network execs to prepare for, because she genuinely wants to know what they think about it.

“What are you interested in saying about sexual assault, either in the context of a single story or across your network or studio’s mix of programming?”

“If you believe your exploration of violence is “not specific to women,” what stories are you telling, or do you plan to tell, about men’s experiences with sexual assault? Do you believe men and women’s experiences with sexual violence are the same or different?”

“What stories about sexual assault by other artists do you admire, and why? Can you name a story about sexual assault that you think was badly done or unnecessary, and explain why you feel that way about it?”

These are fascinating questions, and any answer to them aside from a squirm and a brush-off would be breaking from the norm in a way pop culture writers are eagerly awaiting. Rosenberg is showing that the answers are worth perhaps compromising a bit for.

Will “The Night Of” revive or kill its niche?

With HBO’s latest scripted drama premiering this week, many are saying that it’s a sign that there’s life for the network beyond “Game of Thrones.” That’s a bit bizarre to say about a network that had five seasons of a show regularly labeled “the greatest show of all time” to its airwaves before, but let’s interrogate this deeper.


“The Night Of” follows Nasir Khan through the titular night, where he spends a dreamy night with an attractive stranger only to wake up and find her dead. He has no memory of what happened after they started hooking up, thanks to the countless drinks and drugs the two did, and flees the scene. He’s caught by the end of the first episode, and from here only two things are clear: A girl is dead, and no one has any idea what the truth is.

I know what you’re thinking: What a cliche. And you’d be right. “The Night Of” is, on paper, a classic formula, with a pinch of unreliable narrator and a dash of modern racial politics. But to its fans, “The Night Of” is proof that a concept is never truly dead, only done poorly.

It’s a concept I personally believe. For every person that said zombies are done and rom-coms are over, I invite you to look at the consistently highest-rated television show and the new, raunchier face of modern romance. “X-Men: Apocalypse” was atrocious, but the ideas behind it held promise. It’s a cliche but it’s a cliche for a reason: There’s only bad execution. And one thing you can’t say about “The Night Of” is that it has poor execution.

If the devil’s in the details, “The Night Of” is dancing on his lab. It revels in the small reveals, the meticulous uncombing of plot. It’s careful with every corner of world, from plot and characters to backdrop and props. If it keeps this up, it’ll no doubt result in a turning point for the genre, or at least a fleet of network copycats.

For now I’m unconvinced that “The Night Of” is the promised one. I enjoyed the pilot immensely, but I have a soft spot for slow, brooding crime drama (or just crime shows in general) and it’s only been 90 minutes of plot development. While this show may be the successor to HBO’s crime procedural hole after “True Detective” stumbled, it’s not the only thing “breathing life” into the genre. And in fact, it may be the most reductive thing: Where “The Night Of” brings the definitive detective wireframe, “Serial” and “Making a Murderer” have completely upended the discussion. Where the new HBO show presents yet another dose for dead girl fatigue, “Jessica Jones” flips the script. And where “The Night Of” follows HBO’s gloom in the cinematography, “Hannibal” danced in stunning disquiet.

Like I said, it’s only been one episode. And given that crime procedurals are a dime a dozen, this is probably just one more flavor of the week that its up to the viewer to decide if it’s good enough. I’ll be watching along every weekend with everyone else, eagerly anticipating a new morsel, clue, or twist. But I’m not sure the case is closed on procedurals.