Friday, August 7, 2009

Same Show, Different Channel

Dear Readers,

First of all, thank you for arriving at this blogregardless of whether you're a loyal follower or a first-time visitor. However, my blog is now located at my new domain:

To try to reach a larger audience, I'm leaving Blogger and hosting the blog myself with the help of Wordpress. Plus, I've given the blog a complete makeover. But don't worryno content has been lost: I've transferred all the posts you see here there (adding glossy, new photos to most of them!).

Wordpress has streamlined the updating process, so I intend on posting much more often at the new site. In fact, there's a new post waiting for you there now. Thanks again, and enjoy the new site.

See you there,

P.S. - If anyone used the email newsletter to read posts from this blog, let me know via a comment on either site. The new site doesn't yet have that feature, but I can work on it if it's in demand.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Future of Classic

After watching the second-season finale of Breaking Bad, the dramatic series about a chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer desperate to not let his cancer treatment bankrupt his family, I had one thought: thank God this show is on AMC.

With the premiere of Mad Men two years ago, AMC went from musty movie channel to leading cable destination overnight. And now with the network's second dramatic series Breaking Bad attracting its fair share of critical acclaim (and even a leading-actor Emmy win for Bryan Cranston), AMC is establishing itself as a network that values quality over quantity. Unlike the broadcast networks, it has no reason to fill its primetime schedule with series each fall and hope that at least a few are commercial successes (let alone critical success). It has the freedom to develop series more thoroughly and thoughtfully.

And shows on AMC risk virtually no chance of cancellation. If a show on any of the big four networks pulled in Breaking Bad's numbers (around 1.4 million viewers on average), it would be axed instantly. But 1.4 million viewers, for a previously-obscure network like AMC, is a windfall. So with no threat of extinction—and a supportive network, to boot—AMC seems like a writer's and producer's paradise, as long as those writers and producers don't mind small audiences.

The second season of Breaking Bad was even edgier, more stimulating, and more tragic than the first. If this were a broadcast network show, I'd be sweating about whether a third season would ever transpire. But the show was renewed four episodes into last season. Thank God this show is on AMC.

On a technical note, I have widened the main column of this blog by 50% to allow for larger photos. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Follow That Sound

Lately, the trend regarding opening titles has been to make them as short as possible. Gone are the days of ones lasting a minute-and-a-half. And rapidly going are the days of ones lasting thirty seconds. For example, both Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives once had excellent sequences—a satirical look of the representation of women in art, and a clever montage of love lives and professional lives intermingling. But both sequences have been replaced by mere title cards lasting five seconds, tops.

That's why I was so pleased to see that A&E bucked the trend starting with the second-season premiere of The Cleaner. This was a show that used to display a simple title card. But now, it has been granted a luxuriously long—and damn good-looking—title sequence, which you can view below (so long as YouTube doesn't yank the video). The imagery is stunning: oblique glances at Los Angeles locales captured in reflections from broken glass and drug paraphernalia, all culminating in a shot of William Banks approaching a soon-to-be interventionee's car. And now we can hear more than just a snatch of the theme song, Sharon Little's "Follow That Sound."

Maybe this upgrade was only possible because cable shows have more latitude than networks ones, but all producers should take note: quality shows deserve quality introductions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What They Should and Should Not Have Done

As I was discussing the sorry fate of Jon and Kate Gosselin with my mom earlier tonight (before the inevitable happened), we agreed that they are to blame for their level of media exposure. Yes, the paparazzi are nuts, but they knew that. The job of the paparazzi is to find scoop, and Jon gave it to them, no matter what his intentions were. And Kate is just as culpable for airing her grievances to People, probably to try to rally sympathy while earning a pretty penny—but all she did was come off as passive-aggressive.

My mom and I talked about their overwhelming desire for all things material. Indeed, Jon recently professed that he only does the show for the goods and chattels that come with it. And to think that, at first, they claimed they were doing the show to pay for their children's futures. They must have already done so, because they then cashed in their hefty paychecks from TLC to buy a much larger house on a much larger piece of property. But my question is this: instead of using the excess money on real estate, why didn't they keep their perfectly fine middle-class existence and donate to a charity? Or perhaps create a new charity to support other parents financially affected by multiple births?

In any case, it is a depressing state of affairs, and I feel very sorry for the kids. And as for the parents, I do have a modicum of sympathy for them, despite their thoughtless behavior.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Two Minutes, Seventeen Seconds

2009-2010 Pilot Round-Up, Part 1

ABC has a lot of fine prospects for the 2009-2010 season, but one of the most exciting is a pilot called Flash Forward, based on the Robert J. Sawyer novel of the same name. (I don't love that title, but that's neither here nor there.)

The story begins with a worldwide event: the population of the world blacks out for two minutes and seventeen seconds, during which everyone experiences a vision of his or her future. FBI agent Mark Benford, horrified by what he sees, assembles a team to figure out what the event means and how to prevent the future it projected. The team assembles a vast mosaic of visions as they ask people the same question: "What did you see?"

It's an ambitious premise that could set off a tangled, enigmatic plot in the vein of Lost. And I'm all for shows with serialized storylines, as I consider them to be more worthwhile and rewarding than many procedurals. (There are a lot of cop/lawyer/doctor shows on the slate for next season.) Indeed, this show seems like one that will take some mightily attentive viewing but could also be fiendishly addictive—assuming it remains on the air long enough.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

An Elegy for the Remote-Free


One of my favorite practices this season was Fox's "remote-free TV" model, in which the networks aired fewer commercials during each episode of Fringe and Dollhousewhile charging advertisers more for the exclusivityin an effort to keep viewers watching live, instead of recording the shows and fast-forwarding through the commercials. I liked it because, as a result, each episode's running time was 49 or 50 minutes, instead of just 42 or 43 minutes.

Unfortunately, the experiment had its share of setbacks, according to this article at Airlock Alpha. Even though viewers paid more attention to the ads, many companies were reluctant to shell out the extra bucks. Also, each episode was more expensive to produceand the extra minutes of each episode would be cut if the show was ever to air on another network.

I have to confess that I did nothing to help save the venture. I rarely watching anything live, unless it's some sort of viewing get-together with friends. The reduced number of ads simply meant less time through which to fast-forward.

However, I propose remote-free TV could work (and should be implemented) for shows like Dancing with the Stars or American Idol for a number of reasons: a) advertisers would gladly pay more since DWTS and Idol are huge ratings successes, b) it would reduce the running time of the show, especially if the producers trimmed some of the padding to fit those shows into an hour-long time slot, and, assuming that happened, c) other shows could be added to the lineup to fill those now-vacant time slots.

Networks, please have faith in remote-free TVif not for me and my selfish desires, then for the sake of packing more into your primetime hours.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Give These Actors a Take Two

The following actors are all alumni of some of my favorite shows, and I want them back on television. Post haste!

  • Merrin Dungey Dungey is one of my beloved Alias actors and probably one of the most underappreciated. She spent two seasons playing Francie Calfo and then made a couple of repeat performances later in the series. She spent two seasons on the sudsy, frothy mess known as Summerland. And then good news! She was cast as Addison Montgomery's best friend Naomi Bennett in the backdoor pilot for Private Practice. And then bad news! She was replaced by Audra McDonald for the actual series. Even though McDonald seems perfect for the part of Naomi, Dungey needs a role elsewhere.
  • Gillian Anderson I don't care if she's playing Dana Scully or not, Anderson should return to American television. (Actually, that's a lie: I'd love to see a Scully comeback.) The X-Files alum has had a fair share of success with the miniseries Bleak House and with The X-Files: I Want to Believe, but it's not like she's crazy busy. And she did vow to come live in America again if Obama won, so she is in the country...
  • The Senior Staff of the West Wing And by that, I mean Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, and Josh Molina. I'm even going to throw in Janel Maloney and Stockard Channing. The whole cast of The West Wing is enormously talented, and the actors deserves more rolespreferably on the same show, preferably on one created by Aaron Sorkin. (I'm not including DulĂ© Hill and Rob Lowe because they have regular jobs, and I'm not including Martin Sheen because he's had a long career and deserves a break.)
  • Sam Jones III Why has he not returned to Smallville? People should know when they can jumpstart a big-screen career and when they can't. (I call it the David Caruso Question.) If Sam Jones III can't make the transfer, he should return to the burg of Smallville to have more dangerously awesome, awesomely dangerous adventures with his old high-school chums.
  • Almost the entire cast of Roswell But not Katherine Heigl, that diva! No, this one goes out to Shiri Appleby, Jason Behr, Brendan Fehr, and all the rest who need jobs. I miss them. Unless they've abducted by real aliens, they're around, and probably looking for work.
  • Lee Pace & Anna Friel I'm sad that Pushing Daisies was cancelled, and I'm remiss for not having seen all of the available episodes! But I loved what I saw, and these two were masters of innocent, cutie-patootie love. I'd love to see them portray the same types of characters. Then again... it could be cool seeing them as serial killers...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Sarah Walker Switcheroo

Just for the frivolous, hypothetical fun of it all, let’s theorize what would happen if the gun-wielding, Intersect-protecting Sarah Walker from Chuck swapped places with the upstart-starting, family-tending Sarah Walker from Brothers & Sisters.

In the world of Chuck, Sarah Walker from Brothers & Sisters would get totally overwhelmed by the treacherous spy missions, call her family members for support, and then rally to get through it. She might have a fling with Chuck for the self-esteem boost and then break it off abruptly and clumsily. She would have no patience for Chuck’s best friend Morgan—she’d deem him immature and promptly put him in timeout. She would totally hit it off with Chuck’s sister Ellie—they’d call each other for life advice. She would object to John Casey’s attitude of superiority, and she’d try to become a better spy just to put him in his place.

In the world of Brothers & Sisters, Sarah Walker from Chuck would quickly get fed up with the family’s dysfunction. Thanks to a fancy, government-issued cell phone (and the requisite hidden earpiece), she would not need to put anyone on call-waiting during one of the Walkers’ infamous simultaneous-phone-calling. Not only would she be the only character on the show who could actually keep a secret, she would learn everyone else’s secrets after planting bugs around the house. She would not talk about “feelings.” Instead, she would her emotions in check until she had the chance to vent by shooting something—or someone. (Holly Harper might want to watch her back.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Heirarchy of Obsessiveness

Under some pretense of being an organized person (ha!), I keep a very meticulous list of the episodes I have yet to see for all the shows I follow. And I've noticed definite trends regarding my level of addiction to certain shows—or the lack thereof—as shown in the following categories. (I should point out that this is nowhere near a comprehensive list!)

Must-See TV I want to see it, and I want to see it now.
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Lost
  • 30 Rock
  • Grey's Anatomy
  • Chuck (surprisingly)
Will-See TV I love it, but I might be a few episodes behind.
  • 24
  • Heroes
  • Mad Men
  • Damages
  • Californication
Might-See TV I've liked what I've seen, but I have a serious backlog.
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  • True Blood
Should-See TV I know, I know, I have to watch it. So you keep telling me!
  • The Wire
  • Friends
  • Friday Night Lights
  • The Office
Won't-See TV No, thank you.
  • CSI
  • NCIS
  • Law & Order
  • American Idol

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Busting a Recap

I wasn't going to watch the hour-long recap before the season premiere of Lost Wednesday night, but my mom wanted the refresher course. (And actually, I probably needed it, too.) I have to say, I was impressed. Not only did the recap distill four seasons of Lost into one hour, but it did so comprehensively and smoothly—with natural progressions and seamless segues, no less. And I realized why it was so successful: it didn't burden the viewer with synopses of storylines and profiles of characters that don't play a part in the upcoming season. It just gave viewers the essential info for the characters that are still around and the storylines that are up in the air. With a show as plot-heavy as Lost is, the recap was essential. And, luckily for us, it did the show proud.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Sophomore Slaughter

The "sophomore slump" occurs whenever the follow-up to a pop culture phenom fails to live up to the original. In the TV world, it occurs when the second season of a TV series doesn't match the quality of the first. Some shows weather this storm and continue on. Others are cancelled before they can even recover. And yet others are axed even if they don't fall victim to the slump—even if the second season is on a par with the first.

For some reason, I’m always surprised when shows are cancelled in their second seasons or later. To me, cancellation seems like the gauntlet that first-year shows run, and once they’re past that trial, they’ve earned the right to end on their terms—or, at least, end with a little advance notice. No such luck.

ABC reminded me of this misconception a couple of months ago with the sudden (and simultaneous) cancellation of three sophomore series: Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, and Dirty Sexy Money. I hadn’t gotten into Dirty Sexy Money, but I was a big fan of the other two. And this move by ABC—cancelling three series in one fell swoop—struck me as particularly ruthless. At least when shows are cancelled individually, I can pretend like it was a hard decision for the network to make. But when three shows are cancelled at once, it just seems to me like the network just made a snap business decision regardless of each show’s merits. What a stark reminder of just how much of a numbers game the TV biz is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Woes of Standard Definition

First a pipe burst in my parents’ house. Then the insurance company compensated them generously. Then my parents upgraded my old bedroom to a media center with a beautiful LCD TV. And then, on the next vacation I had from school, I was utterly spoiled. Spoiled not because I could set the DVR to wake me up to Discovery’s Sunrise Earth (one of the most pastoral, minimalistic hymns to the beauty of nature available on basic cable), but because high-definition television is life-changing. Once you go HD, you never go back.

So, why, I beg of you, why do networks insist on slumming it by broadcasting shows in standard definition? My mom, lover of dancing shows that she is, recently checked out NBC’s Superstars of Dance. Host Michael Flatley proclaims that it is the “greatest dance competition show on Earth.” Oh, really, Michael? Then why isn’t it broadcast in high definition? That turned me off from the show even before the insipid “international” judges opened their mouths.

It’s also a problem when your favorite shows are available in high definition, but you don’t get the HD channel as part of your cable package. I love Mad Men and Damages, but it was painful to watch those shows last season in SD. Luckily, we have since been granted AMC HD, but up until a couple of weeks ago, FX HD was still nowhere to be found. But then I found out that we were on an outdated plan and that we could receive all the HD channels, present and future, for $5 less than we’re paying now. Hallelujah!

I’ve often said that when I graduate college and get an apartment, a DVR and an HDTV will be necessities. But, in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the beauty of high definition while I’m here at home on our full collection of HD channels… so long as networks actually broadcast high-def programming.

The Pros and Cons of Starting The Mentalist

Every fall, I play the television lotto—picking out which shows are worth adding to my (considerable) viewing schedule and hoping that they don’t get cancelled. Sometimes I’m lucky with my choices (read: Heroes and Brothers & Sisters), and sometimes I’m unlucky (I miss you, Aliens in America and The Ex List!). One of the shows I decided to skip this season was The Mentalist, and now that it’s soaring in the ratings, I’m starting to reconsider. So begins the inner monologue/debate:
  • PRO: It’s the highest-rated of all the new shows this season and almost the highest-rated of all shows, new or old. So I could conceivably start watching it without the concern that it will be cancelled the moment I begin.
  • CON: It seems to err too much on the side of the procedural and not enough on the side of the serial for my tastes.
  • PRO: The premise seems a bit more original than your typical cop show, but…
  • CON: The premise seems a bit like a more serious retread of Psych.
  • PRO: It has an episode-naming scheme, which I generally like (being the continuity lover that I am), but…
  • CON: Its episode-naming scheme is just including the word “red” into every title. That’s almost as bad as Knight Rider’s episode titles, which were just puns with the word “knight.” (Disclaimer: For the record, lest my credibility be doubted, I do not watch Knight Rider, nor have I ever!)
  • PRO: I saw a mentalist perform recently and it was mightily impressive, but…
  • CON: NBC’s reality competition Phenomenon, which looked for America’s best mentalist, was—by all accounts—not so mightily impressive.
  • PRO: Robin Tunney is a cast member. I enjoyed her in the one and only season of Prison Break I’ve seen. The smoky voice, the impossibly-arched eyebrow—what’s not to like?
  • CON: I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 44 shows that I’m actively following, not even counting the shows I want to catch up with on DVD. 44!
So my verdict is this: it may be good, but it’s still a procedural show, and I don’t have the time for shows that I don’t absolutely love. (And I might pass on Lie to Me, which premieres tonight, for the same reason.)