Halloween is perhaps the most contradictory of the major holidays. Though born in Ireland and other Celtic regions, today it is almost exclusively observed in the form that developed in North America; though closely associated with the imagination, it has been thoroughly commercialized, becoming an opportunity for children to buy costumes and then acquire candy (today it is the second largest commercial holiday in the US, after Christmas); and finally, though it is the holiday most closely associated with children, it is also one that has, traditionally, been all about fear.

On Saturday, September 26, 2009, the US network Nickelodeon did something unusual: it switched itself off. This was in observance of the “Worldwide Day of Play,” an event Nickelodeon inaugurated in 2004. The network – along with its sister channels Noggin, the N, and Nicktoons, and their associated Web sites – went dark for three hours to encourage its young viewers to “ride a bike, do a dance, kick a ball, skate a board, jump a rope, swing a swing, climb a wall, run a race, do ANYTHING that gets you up and playing!”

One of the most successful new shows of recent years is TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus 8. How successful? It consistently wins its time slot against all other cable competitors, including high-profile shows such as The Closer, and among the very desirable demographic of women between eighteen and thirty-four it outdraws broadcast network offerings Two and a Half Men, Heroes and 24. TLC has had a number of different identities over the years, and has become very nimble in responding to unexpected successes. Starting out with science programming, back when it was called The Learning Channel, the programming moved first into real-estate and home remodelling shows and then to programs such as The 750 Pound Man and It’s Not Easy Being a Wolf Boy. Among these was a pair of shows about unusual families, Little People, Big World and Jon & Kate Plus 8. When the latter became a runaway success the channel quickly capitalized on it, and now features several other shows about large families such as Table for 12 and 18 Kids and Counting.

Joe McGinniss’ book The Selling of the President had a shocking title for 1968, suggesting as it did that in the television age the presidency had become nothing more than another product to be packaged and sold. A new MNet resource, Watching the Elections (a lesson for Grade 8 to 12 Social Studies classes), shines a light on how the different aspects of an election – from the debates to political ads to the candidates themselves – are actually media products.

Media educator John Pungente’s series Beyond the Screen, airing on Bravo!, now has its own Web site, where teachers can find resources and tips on integrating the series into their classrooms. Father John Pungente, a longtime media educator and founding Board member of MNet, planned the series as a follow-up to his acclaimed Scanning the Movies. Like its predecessor, Beyond the Screen is intended as a way of teaching viewers to “read” movies. In Beyond the Screen Pungente uses clips from current movies and interviews with cast and crew to shed light on filmmaking techniques, genre, and theme. The Web site offers showtimes and previews of upcoming episodes and links to teachers’ guides. (So far the only guide that’s been posted is for Speed Racer, but the guide for The Dark Night should be up shortly; upcoming episodes on Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince should be popular as well.)

On March 17th (in most markets) PBS’s Frontline will feature The Secret History of the Credit Card, a documentary that looks at how credit cards came to be a nearly ubiquitous part of our lives.

Two programs on Internet issues are airing this week. First, a three-part series (from Monday. March 3 to Wednesday, March 5) on CTV News Ottawa (Cable 7, Bell ExpressVu 196, Starchoice 311) on cyber bullying; you can watch the trailer here. Also, on Tuesday March 4 TVO’s The Agenda is airing a discussion on how being online changes the way we socialize.

Despite a few attempts, air is still free – but airwaves aren’t: on January 25th, 2008, the U.S. government began auctioning off rights to frequencies in the 700 megahertz spectrum. These frequencies, which until now have been used to carry broadcast TV signals, are the last important part of the spectrum that will be available for the expanding mobile communications market. These airwaves are being sold (or to be more precise, licensed for ten years) by auction by the Federal Communication Commission – you can watch it gavel-by-gavel at the FCC’s Web site. The government hopes to raise $15 billion dollars from the sale, but various factors (particularly the stock market’s recent troubles) have kept bidding lower than expected.

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