Super User

Super User

Why Does Netflix Keep Recommending Adam Sandler Movies? I Have A Theory

23 November, 2020

If you spend any time watching Netflix's Top Ten lists, you'll notice that it's common to see weird and sometimes obscure movies suddenly appear on the lists. Some random Adam Sandler or Mark Wahlberg film will unexpectedly be the 3rd most-watched film and there is often no discernable reason for it to happen. It's clear Netflix's suggestion engines are surfacing the title for users. But why?

Stereogum has a really fascinating look at Spotify's recommendation engine and the story starts with a simple question: The Brighten The Corners album outtake "Harness Your Hopes" is the #1 song on Pavement's Spotify page, with over 29 million plays to date, eight million more than "Cut Your Hair," a legitimate and enduring '90s hit. Quickly, and without any obvious reason, it stopped being a rarity and started to become a standard. So how did this happen, exactly?

Online, people have been casually wondering this on places like Reddit and Twitter, with a prevailing theory being that the song must have been featured on a prominent Spotify playlist, and then simply snowballed from there. Malkmus himself was under this impression, too: “I heard it was on a playlist or something,” he says, nonchalant. “I’m not an expert on Spotify but, you know, one of those ‘Monday Moods’ or whatever the fuck they do.”

It’s a reasonable enough explanation. But looking at a similar situation of his own, Damon Krukowski wasn’t so sure. The musician and writer was fascinated with the question of how “Strange” became his former band Galaxie 500’s top Spotify track — by a significant margin — even though it was not a single, was never particularly popular in the past, and wasn’t being picked up on any prominent playlists. In June of 2018, Krukowski laid out the conundrum on his blog, and soon he received a possible explanation from a Spotify employee.

Glenn McDonald, who holds the title of “data alchemist” at Spotify, had taken an interest in the case, and decided to look into it. What he found is that the sudden jump in plays for “Strange” began in January of 2017, which was “the same time Spotify switched the ‘Autoplay’ preset in every listener’s preference panel from off, to on,” as Krukowski recounted on a follow-up blog post. McDonald explained to Krukowski that the Autoplay feature actually cues up music that “resembles” what you’ve just been listening to, based on a series of sonic signifiers too complex to describe. In this case, “Strange” had been algorithmically determined to sound similar to a lot of other music, and was frequently being Autoplayed to the point that it took on a life of its own, and eventually eclipsed the band’s other tracks. It continues to do so to this day.

It's well-worth reading the entire piece and while Spotify refuses to discuss the issue, it's probably not a coincidence the service is beginning to allow bands to select which songs get chosen for this unintentional attention. 

This is the type of insight you can only get from inside the company and Netflix is notoriously shy about discussing its internal recommendation engines. But this Spotify story makes a lot of sense when you put it in the context of Netflix. These lesser, often obscure movies are being recommended not because they are great, but because they are bland enough to match up closely with other popular movies subscribers have previously viewed. 

Which gets us back to those Adam Sandler movies. Critics might not love them and some of them might feel more like a cast cashing a check rather than working towards the punchlines. But the movies are mainstream and if Netflix's recommendation engine works anything like Spotify's, Sandler's movies are going to get a lot of attention. Even if you're not looking for them. 

We tend to think of recommendation engines as being complex, manipulative creations that are driven entirely by design. But as this Spotify story illustrates, even the most carefully designed piece of software can produce unintended consequences.

Conan O'Brien To End TBS Talk Show For Weekly HBO Variety Series

17 November, 2020

Conan O'Brien is retiring from the nightly talk show business.

On Tuesday, the comedian announced that he is ending his nightly TBS talk show and launching a weekly variety series for HBO Max.

Conan launched on TBS in 2010 and he has appeared in over 1,400 episodes of the show. He also hosted The Late Show with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien for NBC.

"In 1993 Johnny Carson gave me the best advice of my career: 'As soon as possible, get to a streaming platform.' I’m thrilled that I get to continue doing whatever the hell it is I do on HBO Max, and I look forward to a free subscription," O'Brien said in a statement announcing the move.

"28 years is a monumental achievement in late-night television," said Brett Weitz, General Manager for TNT, TBS and truTV, in a statment. "We’re incredibly proud of the groundbreaking work that Conan and his team have accomplished during the 10 years at TBS and are so glad that we will continue to have his presence on our air with the ‘Conan Without Borders’ specials. We celebrate his success and are glad to see it grow across our WarnerMedia family."

"Conan’s unique brand of energetic, relatable, and at times, absurdist, comedy has charmed late-night audiences for nearly three decades. We can’t wait to see what he and the rest of Team Coco will dream up for this brand new, variety format each week," said Casey Bloys, Chief Content Officer, HBO and HBO Max.

QAnon Supporters Are Pretty Sure A Biden Campaign Guy Was Arrested. Even Though The Photo Is Of Cuba Gooding Jr.

14 November, 2020

As many other people have mentioned before, we live in the dumbest of all time lines. A place where all sorts of screwball conspiracies pop up and no one bothers to spend the two minutes necessary to see if an accusation is true before breathlessly tweeting it out to the world. Usually accompanied by a comment along the lines of "The MSM will never report this!"

About an hour ago, I ran across a tweet from a conservative talk show guy I follow. He was retweeting someone else who claimed that a former FBI Agent and Biden staffer has been arrested. He doesn't mention the name in his tweet, but in his comments he bravely suggests that people use Google. So why not just reveal the identity of the person he claims has been arrested in the initial tweet. Well, skeptics might suspect that he wants to stir up some trouble on social media without proving he's just making stuff up:

You notice the guy has added "President-Elect" to his profile name, which you see a lot in conservative political circles. I guess it's supposed to be some sort of 3-D level trolling about how "anyone can call themselves president-elect." Although to be honest, it comes across a lot like an exceptionally lame Dad joke.

I digress, although in my defense, it's pretty easy to do with this story.

If you look up Dallas Jones in Google, you'll find a bunch of stories from late September that reference affidavits filed with the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOTX) that allege there had been a coordinated ballot harvesting operation in Harris County. According to the affidavits, witnesses allege Texas Sen. Boris Miles and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis were orchestrating a ballot harvesting scheme with help from Biden campaign official Dallas Jones.

Now you might be thinking "wow, these are blockbuster allegations, I wonder why I heard about these before?" For the answer to that question, let's take a look at what the fact-checking website Snopes discovered when they looked into the story:

The only evidence offered in the filing are statements made by the private investigators under oath, which don’t offer any specifics. The statement doesn’t say who the private investigators are working for. One of the investigators claims he will bring his findings to law enforcement and that they are investigating, but he doesn’t state which agency he is referring to.

It's also worth noting that the filing also asked the Texas Supreme Court to block Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins from implementing Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s order moving up the beginning of early voting to start on Oct.13 instead of Oct. 19. It also seeks to stop Hollins from allowing voters to drop off absentee ballots early.

The reason you haven't heard more about this story is that no one took the vague allegations seriously. So why did a story pop up now that claimed Dallas Jones had been arrested for election fraud?

The funniest thing about this entire idiotic story is that I could not find one mention of Dallas Jones having been arrested in Google and calls to Wayne County law enforcement as well as officials in surrounding communities didn't find any arrest records. Instead, all of these QAnon chuckleheads were pointing to this story as "proof," which turns out to be something that was posted on a French-language QAnon web site. It also has a time stamp dated four days from now, but that's another story.

Here is the story, which claims to show Dallas Jones being arrested for ballot harvesting:

I decided I would run the arrest photo through an image search engine to see what I could find. I wasn't able to right-click and save the image, since the web site had used java-script to warn me I was committing "copyright infringement." Which is pretty freaking hilarious, given that image is not Dallas Jones. Instead, it's a photo of Cuba Gooding Jr. being arrested in 2019:

The QAnon web site uses a slightly different photo than the AP one used in the Gooding story. But it's clearly from the same sequence of shots, even if the QAnon photo it so grainy it could have been taken from space.

Now if it turns out that Cuba Gooding Jr. has been arrested for ballot harvesting, then THAT would be a story.

Show Guide: 'Swamp Thing'

07 November, 2020


The Cast:

Production Credits:

The Episodes:
Season One Episode Guide (DC Universe)

1-01 Pilot--05/31/2019
Abby Arcane finds a mysterious creature when she investigates a deadly virus in the Louisiana swamps.

1-02 Worlds Apart--06/07/2019
As Sheriff Lucilia Cable unsuccessfully searches for Alec, Abby theorizes it was more than an accident and retrieves his video journals from Daniel Cassidy. Abby and Mac follow one of her parents into the swamp.

1-03 He Speaks--06/14/2019
Driven to cure the worsening epidemic in Marais, Abby searches for Alec's lab for a cure when her friend, Harlab, becomes stricken with the "green flu." Swamp Thing uses his strange new powers to intervene.

Today's Song You Should Know: 'White Punks On Dope' By The Tubes

14 November, 2020

If you are familiar with the music of The Tubes, it's probably from one of their two big 1980s albums. Toto’s David Foster and Steve Lukather produced the album The Completion Backward Principle, which produced the hit "Talk To Ya Later." And 1983's album Outside In included the #1 hit "She's A Beauty," which still gets a lot of airplay on those "hits of the 80s & 90s" radio stations.

But in the mid-to-late 1970s, the San Francisco-based band was known as much for their insanely over-the-top theatrics as their music. Their shows were part rock, part performance art and while they didn't sell a lot of records in that early period, they had a reputation as a band you had to see live.

Their best album from that period was their self-titled debut, which included the songs "What Do You Want From Life?" and "White Punks On Dope." While both songs ended up being released as singles, the tracks received 99% of their airplay from college radio stations and FM stations that were still holding on to "freeform" format.

The video below is the full concert for a New Year's Eve 1975 show at Bill Graham's Winterland. It opens with lead singer Fee Waybill dressed in a white tux as he goes through a rambling albeit pretty straight-forward version of "What Do You Want From Life?" But fast-forward to about 90 minutes in when the band tackles "White Punks On Dope?" with the already tall Waybill sporting foot-high heels and an outfit best described as "space hooker."

Movies And Specials: 'My Lottery Dream Home: Holiday Extravaganza'

28 October, 2020

Synopsis: David Bromstad will show fans how to deck the halls like a lottery winner—but on a realistic budget. The popular HGTV designer will transform a living room into a lush Christmas tree forest, set a spectacular tablescape for a festive dinner party and adorn a home’s exterior with so much holiday razzle dazzle that the whole neighborhood will cheer. (Courtesy HGTV, 2020)

It premiered Friday, December 11th, 2020 on HGTV.

Movies And Specials: 'Holiday Crafters Gone Wild'

28 October, 2020

Synopsis: Jay Manuel, author and TV personality, will host a competition of epic decorative proportions. During the two-hour special, four teams of talented holiday craft aficionados will battle it out to win a $10,000 cash prize and the title of ultimate holiday craft champion. With challenges ranging from over-the-top tablescapes to one-of-a-kind tree toppers, Emmy award-winning designer Kim Myles and celebrity party planner and lifestyle expert Michael Russo will grade on creativity, complexity and craftsmanship. (Courtesy HGTV, 2020)

It premiered Friday, November 20th, 2020 on HGTV.

This Week In True Crime TV: 11/08/2020-11/14/2020

27 October, 2020

Here is a rundown of all the new true crime television premiering this week:

Killer In Question (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "The Girl In The Lake," viewers get a chance to examine evidence and decide if justice was served in a case where lingering questions remain.

Twisted Sisters (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "Smokey Mountain Murder," a custody battle turns deadly as twin sisters craft a complicated, cross-country conspiracy to do-in the one personn standing iun their way as the children bear witness to the plan.

Till Death Do Us Part (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "Behind Closed Doors," To most people, teenage sweethearts Steven and Michelle Gibson seem to be happily married. They have four children and live a fun and adventurous life together. But the couple is harboring a dark secret-one that will tear the family apart.

Homicide City (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode "The Last Party," a wild party ends in terror as a bright, young mom's cries for help fall on deaf ears. When detectives retrace her steps they find a trap with no way out.

Dead Silent (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "The Girl On The Billboard," After 15-year-old Jasmine Block mysteriously vanishes into thin air, her mother Sarah launches a crusade to find her before it's too late. But when the sickening truth behind Jasmine's disappearance surfaces, it leaves Sarah in shock.

Chaos In Court (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "Hate Kills," it's clips of dramatic, unexpected and cathartic courtroom moments.

Crime Gone Viral (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "Drunk Driver Terror," a drunken driver speeds the wrong way down a highway, a car is swerving, and a family intervenes to prevent tragedy.

Andrea Yates: The Crimes That Changed Us (Investigation Discovery)
Andrea Yates' postpartum mental illness leads her to believe that the only way to save her children from damnation is to methodically drown all five of them, one by one.


Suspicious Minds (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "Whispers From The Woods," A Pennsylvania town is filled with suspicion after 19-year-old Erica Miller disappears without warning. Her mother posts flyers around town, prompting one resident to question the behavior of a family friend.

Evil Lives Here: Shadows Of Death (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "The Ride Along," a police officer in Manhattan Beach, California is shot and killed during a routine traffic stop in 1993, and the only witness is a boy too terrified to tell police what he saw.

48 Hours On ID (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "Reuschel Vs. Reuschel," a look in to what happened that night in February 2018 in Gainesville, Florida reveals unusual family dynamics amongst the Reuschels. It ultimately hinges on millions in marital assets a likely divorce and a high-end New York wedding.


Christmas Movies: 'Christmas On The Menu'

25 October, 2020

Synopsis: Josie Jennings (Kim Shaw) a celebrated, romantic, 35-year old chef in the city heads home to spend the holidays at the quaint, magical bed and breakfast where she grew up, and where her mother Shannon (Cynthia Gibb) has just opened a new restaurant. Famous food critic Tanner Rhodes (Clayton James), who has given Josie harsh reviews in the past, comes to town to review the new restaurant and Josie’s Christmas Cuisine.  As the holidays unfold, Josie and Tanner get to know each other better, and a romance soon begins to blossom but will Tanner find a way to right his wrongs, write a rave review for the bistro’s delicious cuisine, and win Josie’s heart by Christmas Eve?  (Courtesy Lifetime, 2020)

The Cast:
Kim Shaw as Josie Jennings
Clayton James as Tanner Rhodes
Cynthia Gibb as Shannon Jennings
Jesse Kove
Michael Steger
Shanica Knowles

Production Credits:
Christmas on the Menu is produced by The Ninth House and Nicely Entertainment with Vanessa Shapiro executive producing. Jake Helgren serves as writer and director.

It premiered Friday, December 18th, 2020 on Lifetime.

Christmas Movies: 'A Christmas Break'

25 October, 2020

Synopsis: School teacher Addison Tate (Cindy Sampson) wants this Christmas to be special for her kids especially since the School Board has decided that it will be the last as the school will be closing. When Addison meets Danny, a Hollywood actor home to reconnect with his roots, on a Christmas tree lot, sparks fly, uniting the two to save the school from closing right before Christmas Eve. (Courtesy Lifetime, 2020)

The Cast:
Cindy Sampson as Addison Tate

Production Credits:
A Christmas Break is produced by Reel One Entertainment. Tom Berry, Sebastian Battro, Louisa Cadywould, Breanne Hartley, Laurence Braun and Suzanne Chapman serve as executive producers. Graeme Campbell directs from a script by Jason Delaney. 

It premiered Sunday, December 20th, 2020 on Lifetime.

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