Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In the Traps

Didja see the bloodbath at ABC? They've canceled Dirty Sexy Money, Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies, and they've cut the orders from two of their midseason shows, The Unusuals and Castle. ABC Disney seems to be hemorrhaging money and they've asked all their shows to cut their budgets by 2%. There are very good ways to cut budgets, but the studios are willfully ignorant when it comes to that.

I wonder when the entertainment industry honchos will fly their corporate jets to Washington and ask for a bailout. The sooner the better, please! I want to see Senators yelling at them.

Michael posted a great Tim Goodman article on Mad Men. Specifically, Goodman had this to say:
It's easy enough to go into your little safe bubble on "good" series - everything is as you expect it, there's a natural, familiar flow to the quality and you go to bed feeling superior, your artistic side nurtured and your safe expectations safely met. But great shows take chances. They shake things up.

And usually, there's one great show at a time, because it's that hard to successfully fight for your vision. What's interesting about this article is the assumption that there are enough good series that writers and actors and crews are satisfied artistically. That, unfortunately, is as much the exception as the great shows. As time has gone by, more and more shows have become nightmares, both creatively and just in general. I know fewer and fewer writers who are happy where they are. I may know only a few. Everyone else is fucking miserable. And even if someone's thoroughly deliriously happy, more often than not (there are exceptions), they all want to be running their own show. Sure, you can be happy on staff. But that's not the end game. Really and truly fulfilling your vision is, and that can only be done with your own show.

The sad thing is that when people DO get that chance, they don't all seem to succeed. Why that is has been mentioned many times on this blog. But at this point, what does playing nice get you? Not much. A reputation as someone who's good to work with, but not necessarily a reputation as someone who is strong enough to be a showrunner. It's a rough move, from staff writer/producer to showrunner. And not everyone makes it.

Because I have to drive for four hours tomorrow, let's do comments!

Ben wants to know if I read French. Alas, I do not! But good luck with the blog.

Anonymous sez,
Cheers to THIS blog! Have a question for you. My writing partner and I have a script which HBO is very interested in developing (it is genre! Cheers again). We are without representation but not without a few big name actors and producers who are already on board. They're looking to attach show runners and have informed us we'll retain EP status and our creative voice will not be stifled. We want to play by the rules, want to keep the tone and voice of our universe but don't want to over-step and come across as assholes (we aren't). Any advice?

It's very natural that they partner you with a showrunner. This is someone who will have experience, and it will definitely be helpful as you go through the process. The best advice I can give is, choose the person you want. Don't let them strong-arm you. Meet with a lot of showrunners. You're looking for deference creatively, but someone who will also be a strong ally. It's YOUR show -- don't let the showrunner run over you in that regard. You will have to capitulate on some things but don't think, for a moment, that giving in on everything just to appear easy to work with will get your show on the air. It won't. Also, maintain a strong relationship with your executives! Don't let the showrunner tell you that he and he alone will deal with them. Don't EVER allow yourself to be cut out of the process. That is a BIG warning sign! Trust your instincts about who to work with. And good luck!!!

AJ sez,
I also find it interesting that in their TeeVee promo ads, Fox has been using a quote attributed to Time Magazine, but which actually originated from an independent TeeVee blogger whose quote perhaps Time picked up. In it he invokes the XF name, touting Fringe as "The X-Files for the new millennium," which actually sounds like an intentional play on words, if you think about it.

I think that's an interesting statement, although I don't think it's necessarily true. Fringe is nostalgia TeeVee, IMO. It's familiar. It's got some upgrades, but it's not the deconstruction it's made out to be. That said, I still sorta enjoy it, although the episode with the prodigy was kind of a "how not to write an episode of TeeVee" joint. The characters ran around for an hour but at the end, nothing they did affected the story at all. If you removed them from the episode, the story would have played out exactly the same. And WTF happened at the end, anyway? No idea.

Deric goes,
Oh and great horsey post. The adjustments to synthetic turfs is definitely going to be a game changer. Like when artificial turf was first introduced in the NFL, will this shorten the career of a horse not used to such surfaces?

It's the opposite, actually. The synthetic surfaces were introduced to make racing surfaces safer for horses. Turf horses have shown an affinity for it, which is bothersome to a lot of people. But as everyone always says, a good horse should be able to run on any surface!

Edouard wonders,
You said once that music was the "soundtrack of our life" and I was wondering which song best brings you back to those Victory moments.

Good question! Virtually any U2 song, and The Waterboys' "This Is the Sea." That's what springs to mind.

Dan says,
Regarding Life On Mars -- did you see the BBC original? The US remake is very poor in comparison, although I like Jason O'Mara and Gretchen Mol is an improvement on her UK counterpart. But, sorry, Harvey Keitel's a great actor and a fine movie star, but he's an *awful* Gene Hunt. There's no chemistry with Sam, no likeability, nothing. He's just a dour, crabby, over-the-hill thug. Maybe LOM:USA is better if you have NO knowledge of the superior British original, though.

I haven't seen the original yet, but I'm going to watch it at some point. Still enjoying the remake!

Bobo, you're welcome!! Would it freak you out to know that I'm tempering my rants? Heh.

I'm not watching Life. I saw the pilot, but the show just didn't click with me. Nothing bad to say about it, though. I think I've had my fill of quirky characters, although I'm gonna watch that Tim Roth show because it's Rim Roth. On TeeVee. In a procedural, yes, but on TeeVee!!!

Mark goes,
Actually, CBS probably sorta wishes they'd kept Close to Home, which was replaced in its timeslot (to lower ratings) by Moonlight, which was in turn replaced (to even lower ratings) by The Ex-List.

It's TeeVee physics! It happens all the time. Happened with Millennium, too, where every show they put in that slot lost viewers.

And for a goofy action show, I'd prefer Chuck over Knight Rider.

I stopped watching Chuck, just because I don't have the time. I did like it. I like the cast, and I like the throwback premise. The thing that started to bug me about it, though, was that it felt like it was an effort of the part of the writers to incorporate Chuck into the spy elements of the show. Just felt a little forced. My guess is they've figured that out some, as people seem to be really liking the show this season.

Dan says,
I considered MOWE as a guilty pleasure, but now I feel guilty for liking it. Curse you and your logic!

My work here is done.

I've been thinking, and Millennium holds up much better than The X-Files, the further we get away from the both of them.

I think X-Files was the right show for the time. It fit like a glove. Millennium, though, was a little ahead of its time. I still don't think there's been another show that's done that kind of esoteric stuff. JJ Abrams tries, but I feel like his shows are less focused than maybe they should be. I like his desire to throw all kinds of shit in there, but I think the shit needs to be better contained. Which sounds a lot more disgusting than I meant it to sound.

Johnny says,
You want more 80s action back on tv... two words for y'all... MOTHAFUCKIN RIPTIDE !! That's the stuff. They should use the German title though... TRIO WITH FOUR FISTS... it's got kind ofa kinky kung-fu nuance to it.

WORD. I love Riptide!! I know the first two seasons are out, but the second one's only available in Canada. Here's hoping the whole series comes out. It's a super fun show! And, erm, who does the fourth fist belong to???

There will be more shit later, but turkey or whatever must be eaten.

Happy Thanksgiving, for those of you who celebrate it, and sorry to those of you who used to hunt on this land.

np -- Countdown, which I am still cracking out on even though the election's over. I'm trying not to think about being without MSNBC and Daily Kos while I'm away.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Virtual Landslide

President-elect Obama.

I never get tired of that.

But hey, there's TeeVee other than Countdown and Rachel Maddow, the occasional Hardball and YouTube videos on HuffPo. Although it's very hard to wean myself from the politics. It would be easier if TeeVee was better, because I'm only watching one new show (Life On Mars). So far, one drama has been essentially canceled - The Ex-List. This wasn't much of a surprise. Not because of the show itself. It was well written (if not really my thing), and generally well cast. But because it was a relationship show on CBS. I mean, did they really think that would work? There's no crime of the week. No pithy quips over a dead body. No fancy camera work, or blue filter. It was doomed from the start. And, ahem, by the way... CBS probably sorta wishes they'd kept Moonlight, which was replaced in its timeslot by The Ex-List.

I dutifully watched the pilot, and knew it wouldn't be long for the network. The show had other issues that had nothing to do with execution. Like the premise, which was about a single woman who learns (from a fortune teller, of course) that she has already met the man she's going to marry and she has to find him within a year or she'll never get married. And there's my problem with it -- the woman has to basically be a whore in order for the series to be sustainable. And every week, talking about failed relationships? Kinda one-note. But the series was based on a limited Israeli series, so there you go. So basically, this woman runs across men from her past and tries to see if they're The One. She did not ever run across a guy who turned into a serial killer or some other sort of criminal, which would have been my way to take it. But whatevs.

My other issue with it had to do with casting. Although I think Elizabeth Reaser, who played the lead, is really good, I didn't grok her as this character. But Rachel Boston, who played her wacky sister, deserves her own show. Anyway, so long, The Ex-List. You probably could have had a better shot on a different network.

The total flip side of The Ex-List is Knight Rider, of which NBC inexplicably ordered a full season. It's no secret that Ben Silverman loves him some Knight Rider, and today I read that the show is being "re-tooled," so there seems to have been some back-room bargaining to get the show picked up for the back nine. I don't know who's watching this show but any success -- no matter how fake it is -- is good for TeeVee. And there's something retro and cool about a show that's a straightforward, goofy action show. I think there's a market for that. So we'll see if it has any effect on the future. Probably not. But you never know.

I watched the pilot for The Mentalist, loved Simon Baker, and couldn't have been more bored by the rest of it. Apparently it's some sort of a hit, but then it figures, right? It has everything the CBS viewer loves and it doesn't push the envelope. Like, at all. It's Psych, but not funny or inventive. It really wastes the premise and the main character and crams it into the CBS box. The goal, of course, is to get your show on the air, and the producers of The Mentalist checked every CBS box and deserve credit for doing their job. I just wish we could aspire to more, but if the audience doesn't, the writers can't, either. I find The Mentalist to be a cynical show with no heart, but the audience doesn't seem to share my disdain for it. Which means we'll just get more and more shows like this, which is bad for TeeVee.

I know what you're thinking. "Hey, idiot, you just sorta praised Knight Rider and you have problems with a well-made show like The Mentalist. WTF?" I'm just so bloody sick of the CBS procedural formula that I could puke. They stamp these suckers out in the development factory and the audience eats them up. Even if CBS wanted to go outside the box (and they try to every year), they know that in the end, they can't. So yeah, I'd rather see something like Knight Rider succeed, because it's a formula that we haven't seen in awhile. And if it works, then maybe that formula will be re-established and other shows can come from it. But what comes from The Mentalist? More shows exactly like it, more shows that lack point of view and substance, more shows that are created only for the audience and not out of any creative desire. There is already a tidal wave of this stuff coming down the pike, shows where the main Crime Solver has some sort of a mental gift that allows him to see into the mind of the criminal. But it's not supernatural, because GOD FORBID.

Yeah. If you wonder why The Mentalist and shows like it feel like they were unearthed from a time capsule, it's because the same fucking show was already on. It was called Millennium, and it was, apparently, way ahead of its time.

So suck it, dull procedural drama. See into the criminal mind of my middle finger.

Nothing like a cleansing rant on a Wednesday morning!

But wait. There's more. I see your The Mentalist, and raise you My Own Worst Enemy. Because holy God, this show is ass. It's the kind of ass that you could use to teach a "how not to write for anything" course. I don't know the show's creator, Jason Smilovic. The first time I heard of the guy was when he developed or created (IMDB isn't quite clear on the specifics) Karen Sisco, a terrific show that didn't get the support it needed to survive. But Elmore Leonard was involved in that and based on Smilovic's latest track record, I'm gonna ascribe Karen Sisco to Leonard, unless someone in the know can correct me.

So Smilovic created Kidnapped, which I found weird (not in a good way), and which was a commercial failure. Then his (and my) bete noir, Bionic Woman, a show that I've talked about at length. Well, that failed on an epic scale and NBC/Universal immediately gave him My Own Worst Enemy. As bad as Bionic Woman was -- and there were many reasons for its failure -- My Own Worst Enemy sets a new bar of bad. Smilovic created this bad boy on his own and although higher-level people were brought in, it's his show. Or was, until he was demoted and replaced with TeeVee vet John Eisendrath. I don't know if Eisendrath can make the show work, but I certainly have more faith in him and more respect for him as a guy who can get shit done, so you never know.

For those of you who don't know, the show's essentially Jekyll & Hyde with spies. This is not a new idea. We did it on TeeVee already, with Millennium. Then I had a Jekyll & Hyde pitch a few years ago, and we've pitched a suburban spy show with a woman as the main character. Everybody pitches something in this arena at one point or another. So what you hope is, that the show works, and that it's fun. This show doesn't work, and it isn't fun. Smilovic doesn't appear to have thought it through. At all. As in Jekyll & Hyde, the split personalities are Henry (the normal suburban guy) and Edward (the cold-hearted spy). Smilovic's twist on this is that Henry is the created personality.

If the premise of your show is that a normal, average family man is also a cold-blooded killer who works for a secret government organization, which point of view do you start with? Whose life is suddenly turned upside down? Who do we identify with? That's right. Edward! The super-spy, who goes on pale imitations of Alias missions! What's clear from the pilot is that Smilovic didn't think this through. He just switched the viewpoints, because it hadn't been done that way before. FOR A REASON, DUDE. Because it doesn't work. The horror that Henry goes through is pointless, because the audience hasn't gotten to know him. The audience is already ahead of him, and they know that Henry's personality is the faked one.

This leads to some big problems with logic. For some reason, the spy agency decided to recruit spies, train them to be coldblooded killers, then use some weird, unbelievable technology to create suburban, husband-and-father aliases for them to... what, exactly? Isn't it more dangerous to create a personality that doesn't know what's going on? What if that personality inadvertently slips up? Or what if something goes wrong with the spy-to-husband switch, which is exactly what happens in the pilot? It seems to me that if you're going to train a super-spy, you should probably be able to trust that the super-spy could maintain his own fucking alias without any help from this technology. Aren't you just asking for trouble?

Moreover, these fake personalities also have to have a place to work, right? An alias company that does alias work. So they work in the same building the super-secret agency is in. Yes, they have some strange middle-management cover and when they are going to be sent on assignment, they get on an elevator where their Jekyll-to-Hyde switch is activated. I'm not even kidding. All the bad guys have to do is get a whiff of this, and your whole operation is blown.

Oh, but we don't stop THERE. Because an alias, a cover, has to have a life, right? So these guys are all married with kids. And they all have carefully created backstories. WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU DO THIS? What would possess a government agency to pile on so many ways for their operation to get busted? In the second episode, they determine that the switch in Edward's brain can never be fixed. So Henry, the mild-mannered douche, might pop in at any time. Right after this pronouncement is made, Edward's boss sends him on a delicate field operation, where Henry (of course) comes through and almost wrecks the whole thing. WTF?????? Why don't you fucking fire the guy? He's no good to you if the house husband can come through whenever. The spy stuff, incidentally, is really backwards, generic and boring. It's Alias without the fun. This shit would be hysterically funny, if they didn't keep giving this guy tens of millions of dollars every year.

Watching the pilot, and the half of episode two I could stomach (more on that down below), I began to get the suspicion that Smilovic was a big fan of the BBC miniseries, Jekyll, which was an update and an extrapolation of Stevenson's story. He probably thought he could open with Edward because of the way Jekyll is structured. But apparently, he totally missed the point behind that structure. Jekyll had a pretty specific point of view, and the two characters were always distinct, in ways Henry and Edward are not. Actually, if you read the story, it's beautifully plotted, unfolding almost like a matryoshka doll. No pun intended.

The miniseries is faithful to the spirit of the story, and to Stevenson's intricate plotting. Smilovic tries to ape it, but doesn't understand it. He changes things for the sake of changing them without understanding why and how they worked to begin with. I suspect, but do not know so don't quote me, that Smilovic got the idea for the show from Jekyll, which he probably looked at when he was involved in casting Michelle Ryan for Bionic Woman. And the way Edward and Henry communicate is a lot like Jekyll. Again, I don't know if this is true or not and if it is, it's not like he's heinous for doing it. But based on what happens with Henry and his wife in My Own Worst Enemy, it's a puzzler.

There's a moment in the pilot when Edward comes through, putting Henry to sleep, and he fucks Henry's wife (a totally underused Madchen Amick). When Henry finds out, he's all, "Hey. Don't do that, okay?" He's really mild about it. This is a big part of the Jekyll miniseries, where Jackman totally loses it and threatens Hyde. Of course, Jackman's wife has much more to do than Henry's wife in this show, because she's actually a fully formed character with a real point of view that extends beyond "sexy, loving wife." Smilovic seems totally incapable of creating a believable female character.

In the second episode of My Own Worst Enemy, Edward fucks Henry's wife again, but Edward (of course) is more of a sexual creature than Henry and pleasures Henry's wife the way Henry has never been able to. The wife, of course, is delighted, and does that stupidly written girl thing of going, "Henry, what's gotten into you?" It's played as sex farce, and not as horror. And therein lies the problem. That, by the way, is when I turned the show off and vowed never to watch again. It's really misogynistic and just icky, and the wife character is beyond stupid.

The viewing public doesn't seem so interested in this show, so it may not last. But the very fact that this cool premise was ruined in this way means that nobody else can do it. And that's too bad, because it means that we'll just go back to the dull procedural format.

Which is why I said good things about Knight Rider.

As cynical as bad TeeVee is, at least there are a few good things on. Although now that Mad Men's over for the season and Breaking Bad hasn't started yet... so it's not like I'm watching something every night. As far as returning shows go, I don't care what any of you say, Sarah Connor still kicks ass. I'm thrilled that I get to watch a full season. I'm still watching Fringe, and Desperate Housewives, and... gee. Is that it?

As far as new shows go, I'm only watching Life On Mars. It's not perfect, and the tone shifts too wildly at times, but there are actual moments of inspiration during the show, and Jason O'Mara finally gets to show that he's a star. Also, Harvey Keitel on TeeVee? Nothing wrong with that! Life On Mars has a lot more going for it than the normal cop show, and I do like the little 2008 moments.

So that's it for new shows, unless you count Sanctuary, which I watch not because I think it's great TeeVee, but because it's sort of fun. The effects aren't quite up to speed but it's truly a genre show. I do wish they'd stop ripping off old X-Files episodes, but at least they've fucking seen X-Files.

Gee, this got long. But a good rant will do that to you.

I'll get to some comments next time. Incidentally, Ultravox is reforming. Although they won't tour here, how fucking cool is that???

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Brand New Day


I don't have to listen to the neocon right-wing smear-mongers anymore.

I can go home for the holidays without having to fear a political lecture and defend my "naive" viewpoint.

I don't have to be ashamed of my government, and the votes that installed it.

I don't have to be afraid of a government that wants to restrict my rights because of their interpretation of a much-revised, much-translated book.

I don't have to pay attention to the politics of fear, because they didn't work.

I can ignore the base cynicism that would allow someone like Sarah Palin to become a VP candidate.

I can watch Fox News with amusement, and not terror.

My glass can be half-full again.

I no longer have to defend my position against the gleeful, smug people who see the country as a football game to win, who see America as a country of Crusaders, in the worst possible sense of the word. I can follow the example of Barack Obama and rise above the hate and cowardice. I can forget about the hate and divisiveness of the past eight years, and ignore the propaganda that the majority of Americans rejected. This election wasn't just about beating the other side so we could get all up in the republican's kitchen. It was about positivity. Class. Dignity. Hope. Unity. Bliss. Joy. Hard work. It was about cutting across divisions of class, race, gender, sexual preference. It was about celebration. History.

As a country, we can invest again in science and art. We can develop urban areas, help the disadvantaged, fix the schools. We can begin to save the environment. We can work to stop prejudice (California's bigots WILL be dealt with). And we can earn the world's goodwill once again. We have a mandate. All of us. And we can't screw it up.

Television doesn't get any better than the season finale of Election 2008.

President-elect Barack Obama. That will never get old.

Later this week, we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming. But man. What an unbelievably historical moment.