Friday, June 19, 2009

Planet Helpless

Two posts in one week, because my rage could not be contained.

Oh, Los Angeles Times. Are you trying to make me think you're Entertainment Weakly? I feel the need to add my name to the growing blogroll of rantees. This is the beginning of a column that seems to have been written twenty years ago, but apparently is only a week or so old. I know, right?? It is called, I SHIT YOU NOT, "The Girl's Guide To Comic Con 2009." And yes, it CAN get more stereotypical and offensive than just the title. Watch:

Comic-Con. It's not just for nerdy guys anymore.

And it's not all just about the influx of squealing "Twilight" girls, either. This summer's event, taking place July 23-26 in the San Diego Convention Center, could shape up to be a smorgasbord for female fandemonium. (We say "could" because the official rundown of panels and events won't be officially released until next month.) But we've got a pretty good idea of what eager girls can expect (aside from one heck of a line for the "New Moon" session). Other vampires will be in their midst ("True Blood" and CW's upcoming "Vampire Diaries") but also kick-ass TV heroines ("Dollhouse" and "Chuck"), the muscle behind "G.I. Joe" (Channing Tatum, anyone?), perhaps a return visit from Robert Downey Jr. (hawking "Iron Man 2") and, if we're lucky, Brad Pitt himself (for "Inglourious Basterds").

Holy effing crap. Where to start? Okay, the Quentin Tarantino thing seems easy enough. When Reservoir Dogs came out and I went to see it, this dude goes, "Um, why are you at this movie?" He said that, you see, because Reservoir Dogs is a boy movie. My presence at Reservoir Dogs confused him. I imagined that when he got home from his he-man movie night, his Barbie girlfriend would bore him with her breathy recitation of the sparkly princess movie she saw with her Skipper and Midge friends. Gender roles: Safe!!

Anyway, girls are apparently not supposed to see Quentin Tarantino movies, unless Brad Pitt is in them playing another actor. Hmm? Girls aren't supposed to get the movie references either? Oops.

Let's skim through some of the highlights.

'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time'
Women will be rushing the stage, offering to do star Jake Gyllenhaal's laundry on those washboard abs that he acquired for the film, since he spends much of it fighting, shirtless or both. Jake, we don't want to know how to quit you.

Maybe if the girly girls are lucky, Jake will give them money to buy a new hat, and then he'll let them sing in the show. But not if they go off and do something crazy with Ethel!

'New Moon'
Edward and Jacob appear shirtless in the upcoming "Twilight" sequel, so arrive to Hall H early – as in a week or two before – to beat out all the other would-be Bellas who will no doubt descend. A word of caution: Robert Pattinson is currently filming a romantic comedy (opposite “Lost’s” Emilie de Ravin) in New York so he might be M.I.A. Still, count on the publicity-loving-yet-affable Taylor Lautner showing up to talk about how he bulked up -- and fast -- to play the buffer-than-buff Jacob.


Would-be Bellas, hmm? As in, "I would have a personality and a point of view, but I need to be fought over by a vampire and a werewolf, both of whom want nothing more than to protect me. Oh, and fuck me, too. Secondarily." This genre is hilarious. Most recently we were graced with the Laurell Hamilton books and the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse books. Tanya Huff has the triangle, too, but it's vampire-girl heroine-human cop. Now, Tanya Huff can actually write. And the triangle works on True Blood because the characters are not just the sum of their fur or teeth. But seriously. No more. It's no longer fresh or new. And really, women don't WANT to be fought over. They really don't. That's just something men think women want. Moving on:

'Time Traveler's Wife'
Picture the wonderful sappiness of "The Notebook," replace Ryan Gosling with equally appealing Eric Bana, and inject a different hapless conflict to keep him from Rachel McAdams. In this case, Bana's character's got a gene that causes him to leap through time without the wife. Oh yes, bring on the bittersweet tears.

I can't picture the sappiness of The Notebook because you couldn't pay me enough to see it. Nicholas Sparks is the non-genre version of Stephanie Meyer. Now, I love me some time travel, but I'm talking 12 Monkeys, or Terminator. Or the first science fiction book I ever read -- The Time Machine. Not sure who the love interest was in THAT...

Alex O'Loughlin for 'Whiteout'
What more do you need than the hunkiest Aussie to ever play the undead ... alive and in the flesh? And as long as he uses his real accent, he can talk all about this murder mystery set in Antarctica. Male lead Gabriel Macht isn't too shabby either.

Are you fucking KIDDING ME? What year is this???

'The Wolfman'
Vampire-lovers have it all wrong. Werewolves can keep you warm, sympathize with your monthly curse, sniff out where you lost your keys and not thirst for your sweet, sweet blood. Bonus: Benicio del Toro's natural wolf-y looks won't even require hair and makeup for the panel.

Did a human being who gets paid to write for a living just say "monthly curse?" Can I have your job?

The Mad Hatter Johnny Depp in 'Alice in Wonderland'
"Alice in Wonderland" alone would be a draw for many girls, but add in the fact that quirky hotness Johnny Depp, right, is set to play the Mad Hatter, and you could have a mad (crazy) crowd of women seeking a glimpse of him on stage.

Yes, Alice In Wonderland. That darling story about LSD. Little girls LOVE that shit. Oh... you mean because Alice is adorable and wears an apron, of course...

The men of 'True Blood'
To be honest, Stephen Moyer's 173-year-old Southern gent of a vamp is our least favorite on Alan Ball's swampy HBO series. He's alright -- and there's no not enjoying the sexy way he says "Sookie" (rhymes with "cookie") -- but we much prefer his supernatural co-stars: Alexander Skarsgard's steely-eyed bad vamp Eric and Sam Trammel's sweet, shape-shifter Sam. Of course, we've also got a soft spot for Ryan Kwanten's Jason, the Sookie's clueless blond brother.


'Where the Wild Things Are'
Two words: Mark Ruffalo.

Two words: Fuck you.

Those witchy women of Eastwick
Get your female empowerment right here. John Updike's novel about three women who find their lives turned upside down and mysterious personal powers unleashed when a devlish man moves to town, gets the network series treatment courtesy of ABC. Plus, you know the wardrobe of Rebecca Romijn, Sara Rue and Lindsay Price is going to give those "Desperate" housefraus a run for their money.

I love how people think "female empowerment" is just what happens when three hot girls (who happen to be severely under the thumb of men) are onscreen together. I doubt very much that any woman would agree with the idea that empowerment involves some dude who comes to town and controls all of those women through their vaginas. But one of the girls is shy, wears glasses and has her hair up. I wonder what will happen with that in the pilot?????

The ladies who recall the '80s miniseries this is based on will be hoping for a repeat of that forbidden reptilian allure, the ultimate in star-crossed lovers. Morris Chestnut and Scott Wolf provide the requisite eye candy, but it's "Serenity" stars Alan Tudyk and Morena Baccarin who will have all the Whedonettes giddy for talk of a possible reunion (uh, even though Wash died).

I couldn't give less of a shit about the starcrossed bladdy blah. Jane Badler ate a fucking rat.

'Supernatural'/'Smallville'/ The CW hunks
Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Tom Welling are splitting up on the CW after a long run together, but that just means more nights of hunky goodness. Who knows how long Welling's "Smallville" will be around, so let's appreciate him while we can. Jensen and Jared ... isn't brotherly love beautiful?

Apparently, that show is going to be around forever. And now Brian Austin Green has been pulled into the suck void that is Smallville. A huge waste of an actor who deserves better. There is NO part of comeback or reinvention that involves joining the cast of a ten billion year old CW show.

'Caprica,' sci-fi for girls and guys
"Battlestar Galactica" taught us that there are girls galore watching sci-fi. "Caprica" adds an element of family drama and even soap opera addiction (it's been called "Dynasty" in space) that may even be able to build on the greatness of mourned "BSG."

You know what else taught us that "girls" are watching science fiction? THE FACT THAT THEY'VE BEEN DOING IT FOR FUCKING DECADES.

Channing Tatum in 'G.I. Joe'
People may pooh-pooh dance flicks, but not when Channing Tatum, former underwear model, is in them. And some girls may steer clear of high-testosterone action films, but the same applies. There's also Sienna Miller, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid and some others, but it's Tatum as Duke that may be the girl-draw.

Is there another actor on the planet with blanker eyes than Channing Tatum? Does ANY woman actually LIKE this guy? Channing Tatum is the dude that other dudes think women like, because other dudes are secretly gay.

'Dollhouse'/'Chuck'/Girls who kick butt!
Girls that can kill you with a quick chop to the throat should always be applauded. And "Dollhouse's" Echo (Eliza Dushku) and "Chuck's" CIA Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) dole out butt-kicking goodness pretty often. Echo is sometimes a bit airheady, but don't be on the wrong side of a downloaded killer. And for Sarah, touch Chuck, and you might lose something valuable.

That's great, because Lord knows Dollhouse is JUST about fighting. It doesn't have anything to do with the nature of humanity. Because that stuff is BORING. It makes my girl head hurt.

These little gems come to us courtesy of people Denise Martin and Jevon Phillips, Zap2It monsters Hanh Nguyen and Brill Bundy (Brill does not understand female empowerment) and Zap2It's Rick Porter, who is mightily offensive but pales in comparison to these other idiots.

Hey, L.A. Times? No big shocker newspapers are going down the toilet. Not with offensive shit like this.

The people who matter know that this article is bullshit. They know that women (not GIRLS, you fetid dimwits) who like genre aren't rare creatures who need to be studied. But articles like this DO perpetuate the stereotype. And that stereotype is heard, by executives, producers, and other writers. Hell, I remember not getting a meeting on a show because the producer told our agent that girls don't know anything about sports.

This is NOT helpful. It means that the same tiny circle of people -- generally white men, and nothing against them because you take what you can get -- are going to continue creating television and film. There isn't room for other viewpoints, because of these stereotypes.

I'll stop there, because this post is bleeding into another one that I'll write next week.

But seriously. FUCK the L.A. Times. I thought TJ Simers was bad... but MAN.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No Man Is An Archipelago

Now is the time in TeeVee when you're required to beat your head against a wall. Repeatedly, and with passion. Yes, gentle readers, it's time to pitch pilots!! I've been watching this fantastic show on Discovery Channel called Pitchmen. It follows the real-life antics (you'd agree with that word choice if you'd seen the show) or product pitchmen Anthony Sullivan and Billy Mays. While you may not know Sully, you definitely know Billy. He screams at you from your TeeVee, imploring you to buy OxiClean or the Awesome Augur, yelling at you to WAIT! THERE'S MORE!

Yeah, he annoyed the shit out of me, too, until I watched the show. First of all, they're hilarious. Just watch Billy's eye start to twitch when Sully casually mentions the Sham Wow, just before they're going to shoot. And the show's not just about Billy and Sully trying to one-up each other with their product pitches. These guys don't pitch anything they don't believe in. If they don't think it works, or can be telegenic, they pass. Working in an industry where it's imperative you get your idea across to buyers, this show appealed to me. Now, there's an obvious major difference between pitching pilots and OxiClean. You can physically test OxiClean and show that it works. You can't do that with ideas. And that's one of the things that creates layers of executives. It's all about checks, checks, checks, and balances.

Talking to people about pilot ideas, a few things occurred to me. As much as the business has changed with staffing shows, where only about three people get hired, most of them Bruckheimer or comic book writers, pitching pilots has also changed. I know an awful lot of writers who work very hard to develop that one idea they're going to go out with every year. And in the past, that may have worked. Because you could take your idea to all the networks and all the studios. Over the past few years, that process began to change as cable networks rose to prominence, successful in part because of the specificity of their programming. The networks are following suit a little bit.

But where the cable networks' specificity is inclusive, the networks' specificity is exclusive. They're walking a tough tightrope. They have to look back at what worked for them last year, but they also have to look forward to what they hope will work for them next year. There's nothing present about them. It's all about the past and the future. Anything that IS happening in the present has to do with the capriciousness of the day-to-day work on a TeeVee show. For example, if ABC is really loving everything that's been happening on Eastwick, they'll be more predisposed to like pitches that seem like a good companion for that show. Networks do occasionally have the tendency to make knee-jerk decisions on what new show is or isn't working. Because the things don't premiere for months, so nobody knows what to think yet. For the most part, the cable networks don't have to do this. They know what works for them, and they stick with that. But networks can't have that narrow a viewpoint. They still think they have to appeal to a broad audience.

But do they really? Isn't that attempt what's destroying them? Audiences have become even more fragmented than a Buffy mailing list. Is it realistic to expect an audience to be loyal to a network? I don't think so. Not if the network is attempting to broaden their programming. Because audiences don't have to tune in to the networks for entertainment. They have multiple places to go. If all a viewer likes is Sniping Parents With Too Many Children, there's a channel for that. And the networks don't seem to realize this. The only network that attempts to specialize is CBS, and hey look! According to the ancient, creaky Nielsen system, CBS is the number one broadcast network!

That's no accident.

As far as cable networks go, every one seems to know what they can work with except for SciFi. There's a reason for their indecision -- they're waiting to see how Warehouse 13 does, because that show is supposed to launch their new spelling. So they're buying things, but they only seem to be buying things that could be taken elsewhere. I.e., from famous people, or writers/producers with great relationships at other networks. So nobody really knows what SciFi wants at the moment but when Warehouse 13 premieres, they'll be able to focus more.

I hope.

So what does this have to do with pitching pilots? I think it's impossible to have only one pilot idea anymore. Because you can really only pitch one specific type of idea to each network. Even a procedural idea, which every network wants, has to be tailored to what each network needs. You can't pitch the same procedural to Fox that you can to CBS, or the same procedural to ABC that you can to Fox. And when you're talking cable, FX wants something different than TNT, which wants something different than USA.

This is why I think deals with studios are bad ideas. The studios are moving more towards integration with their network overlords. If you pitch something to ABC Studios, they'll have ABC's needs in the backs of their minds. If ABC doesn't like it, maybe the studio doesn't want to take it anywhere else. Same with 20th, or CBS Paramount. What this means is that unless you can get Warner Bros or Sony onboard, you had better have an arsenal of pilot ideas ready to go. The days of taking a pitch out and then going through the process are over. Because if you go through the process and ultimately the network passes, you are probably not going to immediately be setting other network pitches. It used to be that you would schedule all your network pitches within a week or so. But that isn't going to happen anymore. So the process is quite drawn out and since the window of pitching is getting shorter and shorter (hell, it may be over now, for all I know), you may not have the chance to develop another idea and start the process all over again.

Studios and networks are trying to make it easier on themselves, so they have their go-to people. This does not make it easy on the industry, and it doesn't make it easy for the viewers. It closes the door on fresh ideas. It narrows the focus so much that only the most generic survive.

Nobody seems to realize that this is happening. The executives are buried in work, and the agents seem to be so stunned by staffing that they don't know where to put themselves. What they think is that studio pitches will open up around July, and people will start taking their ideas into networks in August. But I'm going to go on record right now and say that by August, the money will be gone. Networks will be closed. The only money they'll have left will be for for big-ticket items, like hot feature people or giant ape showrunners. This is pretty typical, BTW; they always save some money for the big fish. But will they even listen to outside pitches? Dunno. I guess we'll see.

Luckily, there are other places for writers. Cable networks still seem to be taking pitches. I think it's actually a good thing for networks to still woo big-time writers because then they won't go to cable. Networks siphoning off the people they always work with is good for the rest of the business. So let them stay around, even if they only serve that purpose.

Giant apes seem to blanch when they find out how little cable pays, which I find hilarious, especially in this economical environment. So let them get their big network deals. It's a win-win for everyone.

Alan Smithee sez, regarding Fringe:
But it has its moments, sure. The beach house scene is one. A few other chinks of characterization along the way. But it ain't no BREAKING BAD. For terrific character work, Breaking Bad has put all others in the shade this season. The entire cast is so brilliantly layered and agonizingly real, and not just the top six. Even the bit players are living, breathing entities with complex, unspoken depths.

I would hope that there wouldn't be one person on the planet who would disagree with you. Because Breaking Bad is, far and away, the best show on TeeVee.

But of course Breaking Bad is a cable show. Does that mean we should settle for less on the networks and be content with something at least vaguely out of the routine just so long as it's not Leno? Maybe we have to in this day and age and just be realistic, but I'd like to think we shouldn't. The likes of Breaking Bad could never happen on a network, I realize that, but I don't think that means we should give network shows a free license to mediocrity as viewers.

I think this speaks to the specificity I mentioned above. I don't think we should give network shows a free pass, and I don't think we are. Cable shows are growing in viewership and awareness. They're winning awards. That's a message to the networks. But the question is, do they care? That may not be in their portfolio. The biggest issue here is that we don't REALLY have to choose. I can watch Fringe and Breaking Bad. But if I did have to choose? Breaking Bad. No question.

And now for a word on the main topic! Part of me really feels for Friedman. God knows what a fickle, cruel and sometimes downright spiteful whore the business can be. Hard not to feel some empathy when so many have been put out of work. But then part of me says, you know what? T:SCC got more than its fair shot. 30 episodes -- more than most. It got that stay of execution mid-season. Granted that was only because WB lowered the license fee to pimp Salvation, and granted FOX moved it to Fridays, but still. FOX didn't have to order that back nine, and yet they got it. They got to finish a 22 episode season. And as much as I liked the first season, and as much as I wanted to love the second, it really did look creatively drained with the back nine.

What came through for me was the struggle. Because when it's been decided that your show is on the bubble, it's ALWAYS on the bubble. You never get to relax. And when the struggle is ended, I think there's a sense of inevitability, which is the very thing you were trying to fight against the whole time. There's also the issue of who moves into your house, which he touches on. Look, every show I've ever been on has been canceled. This is not shocking because every show eventually gets canceled. But the shows I've been on were canceled pretty fast. Like, "no back nine for you" fast. But there were several of those shows that were, in my opinion, replaced with lesser shows. Not only did those lesser shows not survive, but the ratings in that timeslot went down, too. From the second a network decides your show is in trouble -- and this is WAY before audiences have a chance to chime in -- you live in fear of cancellation, of a production shut-down. If you don't even have a few months before trouble is foisted upon you, there's no opportunity to feel comfortable and creative.

isn't the audience the measure of the show? this feels like blaming the audience for not knowing something good when they see it - and yet terminator had two seasons to try and change that perception.

Well, the audience doesn't always know when something's good, do they? But I'm not blaming an audience for not liking a show. The ratings do not always directly correlate to death watch. There are many, many other factors (see above). Say you're on a genre show and the network president doesn't like genre. Say the studio's fighting with the network, trying to get the budget up while the network wants to lower the license fee. It's also VERY rare for an audience that leaves to return. And audiences are unforgiving. They rarely give something a chance. Audiences are psychopathic little children, but we have to try and entertain those children. To depend on them for the life of your show, well... it sucks. Networks used to heavily factor in ratings, but there was also that other "something," which had to do with how a network president felt about the show. But as much as you think there's autonomy with network presidents, there isn't. There isn't that relationship between the creator/showrunner and the network head anymore. A network head isn't going to say to a writer, "It's okay. I trust you. We believe in the show." That's just not the business anymore. So they rely more heavily on audience reaction and especially on testing.

Speaking of that, and of an audience not knowing when something's good... you DO realize that shows get on the air BECAUSE of the audience, right? Testing, which used to be an aid, is now all-encompassing. You show doesn't test well, it doesn't get on. Which would have kept Mary Tyler Moore off the air, BTW.

Do you think Summer Bird and Mine That Bird will rematch in the Travers or the Breeders' Cup? Do you have your BC tickets? ;)

GA's ten bucks! I'm jazzed about that. So I'm definitely going. I think they could meet up in the Travers. The Breeder's Cup... I'm not sure. Mine That Bird is definitely not a Polytrack horse. Not sure if Summer Bird is. My dream Breeder's Cup Classic favorite is Zenyatta, but that won't happen.

I'm actually more interested in how this race season affects the two trainers than in those two horses.

There's something to that, and I think the focus on Woolley and Borel should tell the racing industry something about how to market itself. Sure, you can market the horses but the industry has a problem in that the good ones don't stay around, or they're fillies (and we all know that fillies are inferior to colts!). But marketing the people, who will ALWAYS be around... that's the way to go. I think the show Jockeys is showing that.

Dunkirk did better on Sat. than I thought -- he's getting his mental game together. I think he'll be very good in Saratoga and at the BC.

Or... he'll succumb to his breeding and break down, requiring surgery! Stupid Unbridled's Song infirmities...

np -- nattering on MSNBC.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Fear Theme

If you haven't read Josh Friedman's new post on his last day as exec producer on (as he calls it) the scary robot show, go now. I'll wait.

All caught up? Great.

There's the business. Right there. In one hilarious, depressing blog post. One test screening, one ratings point, can make you go from hero to zero, or back again, in a split second. Because the business is all about perception. And perception is driven by numbers. There are the ratings, of course. And then there's the cost. With a new show, you're always fighting about money. What you can amortize over the initial episode order, how embarrassingly low your pattern is, and why Some Other Show next to you on the lot is spending so much more money than you are. It's about how much the studios and networks give you for a writing staff. These days, it's about forty dollars, because development has changed, which means that PODs take a big cut of your budget.

And if your show isn't working, then you're on Death Watch. It used to be that Death Watch only existed inside the industry, but now there's a whole industry outside TeeVee that will do Death Watch for you. For free! Blogs and entertainment sites will gleefully spew about how such-and-such show is about to be canceled, or already has been (Dollhouse was canceled a long time ago, except it wasn't). But you can't really know what Death Watch is like unless you're on a show. The stress of it alone is virtually unbearable. And I've only been on staff. I can't imagine what it's like for a showrunner, for the person who created the show, to be expected to stay creative when their show is hanging by a thread for six months. Because Death Watch starts as soon as your first ratings dip occurs, which is normally by the second episode because that's how audiences ARE. And no matter how much you lie to yourself about the demos being good or the show being cheap or the network execs really loving the show in spite of the ratings, your show is probably dead. The networks will only be so supportive and if they perceive your show as a loss, they will cancel it. And the studio will go about this far, too, because let's remember that studios have different functions than they used to. They are no longer there to protect the show from the network because more likely than not, the studio and the network are the same entity. And as soon as one entity goes, "Hey, you know that fancy licensing fee? We'll pick the show up, but only if that bitch is cut in half," well... the studio backs down real fast.

The studio also makes deals with the network. If they're trying to get an underperforming show picked up but they're also trying to get new shows picked up, they will sacrifice the old in a heartbeat. And overnight, or over a studio lot latte, your show will go from protected to sacrificed. Because from their point of view, that new show is like a horse going into the gate for the Derby. All potential, baby. While your show already struggled down the stretch and finished in the back of the pack. And even though it's frustrating and infuriating, you can't argue with them when they talk numbers. A network may also be more inclined to pick up a show from their vertically integrated studio. This doesn't always happen. But Fox owns Dollhouse, and it doesn't own Sarah Connor. So you can parse whatever you want from that.

All that aside, the one talent you develop from being on show after show that's been on Death Watch (and this is every show I've been on except one) is instinct. You start to know the signs of displeasure. You begin to figure out, much more quickly than your agent, that a certain job isn't going to happen, that your show's going down, or that your pilot is dead. My instincts are razor fucking sharp and so far, infallible. It's not necessarily a talent I love, because it precludes any kind of anticipation or hope. But it's seriously valuable and when we get a show on the air, I'll be ready.

I think the relationship between entities and showrunners has changed, too. Showrunners aren't partners anymore, because partners have no role in a corporate environment. The power structure is different. A showrunner is essentially middle management. But there's also the thorny issue of creativity. A middle manager isn't necessarily a creative person, but a showrunner is. Likewise with executives, who are also middle management but can also be creative and supportive and great. The problem is that they have a corporate structure they must answer to, and this hurts creative partnerships. That's the part of the job that can be infuriating but also intensely rewarding -- when you're working with an executive who really gets what you're doing and what the show can be. But they don't really get to make those purely creative decisions anymore.

What a corporate structure REALLY wants is to make a show without pesky folks who have creative visions. Welcome to the fold, reality shows!

I doubt very much that there's an integrity stand-off or a creative coalition over one of the myriad dancing shows. Although maybe they fight like little Chihuahua critters over which Olympian to cast. I don't know. How easy reality show producers must be to deal with! All the corporations have to do is, every few years or so, feed Simon Cowell some line about how he's irreplaceable, then hand him another bag of money (which they can afford to do because they've slashed the budget of scary robot shows and the writing staffs of everything).

But something's been happening lately, and it has to do with the Thing That Will Change TeeVee Forever -- the new Jay Leno show. Yes, the show that took somewhere around 25 writing jobs and about a thousand -- that's 1000 -- production jobs away. DAMN YOU, JAY, DAMN YOU TO HELL! Except not. Because it's certainly not Jay's fault. "Hey, Jay, turn down all that money so there will be more dramas on the air." He's not a fucking saint. He's human.

So we get Jay Leno, every night at ten. A radical new way of addressing network costs while still airing something. Networks generally order at least one show that is either not totally fleshed out as a series, or that they think is one thing, when it's really something else. Or, they'll order something they like on Tuesday, but have problems with on Wednesday. Jay Leno is apparently that show for NBC. In the first virginal flush of "Hey, this shit's CHEAP!" NBC forgot that they have the Tonight Show, now with Conan O'Brien. The Tonight Show's a big deal. Always has been.

And that format isn't going to change because there's a new host. But funny interview host guy is also Leno's brand. And that would be fine, if NBC had just let the guy go to ABC. But they didn't. They kept him and maybe they thought, "We'll figure out what his show is later." But according to Internet gossip, they haven't cracked it yet. And maybe there's a little bit of buyer's remorse, where they've realized that they have two hours of essentially the same show on every night. How do they make it different, when they're counting on Leno's brand to bring an audience, and that brand is the Tonight Show?

They take the reins and try to fix the problem. They tell Leno that he has to come up with a solution, too. They make the show one of their priorities (and really, it must be THE biggest priority at the network). They do exactly what they do to a drama that they perceive as problematic. This is really interesting, because the Leno idea seemed like something they could order and forget. And that seemed to be one of the main attractions to the idea, aside from the massive monetary savings.

Everybody is going to be watching NBC to see if this works. If it fails, does that mean NBC will go back to scripted programming at ten, or is that now gone forever? I guess we'll see. Regardless of whether or not the Leno gambit succeeds, it will still have changed the network business forever.

Enough of that.

Alan Smithee on Fringe:
But I do think the praise lavished on it is worrying, perhaps indicative of an age of diminished expectations on network television. I mean, isn't the show guilty of most of the things you condemn elsewhere? Cool Ideas given more importance over character, motives sacrificed for mystery, gimmicky, hollow plots. Sound familiar? I wonder why it is that people can recognize all this stuff so readily on the likes of, say, HEROES, but don't want to see it in Fringe and LOST. Maybe it's because JJ Abrams is just so fashionable at the moment that to step back and say "hang on a minute" is to make yourself the only pooper at the party.

I've only seen the pilot of Heroes, but I didn't see anything at all original. Although TeeVee is ostensibly about characters, let's take a look at what most people watch -- procedurals, which are about plots. So seeing a cool idea on a TeeVee show that isn't a new way to catch a killer actually DOES make me happy. And for me, at least, it's not the fact that JJ Abrams is fashionable. I adored Alias, and that had one cool idea piled on another. Sometimes I really, really love cool ideas. The fact that I love them on genre shows isn't acceptable, but other people loving ideas on procedurals somehow IS.

But with Fringe and Lost, I also like the characters. Now, Olivia Dunham certainly isn't the archetype that Fox Mulder is, but it's not necessary that she be. And there was little more terrific character work in last year's TeeVee season than Walter and Peter at the beach house. What I loved about that scene is how the revelations of the episode deepened the characters. They didn't have to come right out and say it. It was there.

Dan said above that there's nothing gimmicky or tacked on about Fringe. Putting aside Nimoy's appearance (which felt like both), there's that other thing they call The Observer. I of course refer to the giant Where's Waldo game that's been going on not only on Fringe, but in fact all over FOX apparently. This is a figure who has no discernible motive or purpose, but gets people thirsty for the Kool Aid. You might as well call him The Gimmick. It just makes the show feel so cynical and manipulative, the TV equivalent of The Cups And The Balls.

Outside of the show, he's a marketing gimmick. But inside the show, well... it's exactly the kind of move that makes me happy. See, I don't think they're trying to be gimmicky. I think they're trying to do cool stuff.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's all bad. The production values are immense. It looks glorious on screen, and I loved the final shot. Production wise, the Bad Robot machine clearly knows exactly what it's doing, as you say. They've got FOX investing in the genre, giving it more minutes and less commercial time, and no one quite builds a hype bandwagon like Abrams. Fringe has clearly got a lot of potential in its set-up and could stand to improve a great deal in its second season if it either gives Astrid/Charlie/Broyles/Nina something worth doing or else ditches them entirely. I don't think the series is structured with enough elasticity to ever match THE X-FILES, but it could be fun watching the attempt.

There are many differences between X-Files and Fringe, and most of them have to do with how the business has changed. A show like X-Files is never going to happen on Fox, or on any other major network, ever again. Fox didn't take a risk with Fringe. Network don't take risks. Nothing gets on the air without extensive testing. And I wouldn't ask Fringe to be another X-Files, either.

Speaking of which, I'm curious about your old X-Files spec should you be tempted to showcase it alongside the unproduced pilots. ;)

Hmm. I've looked at it lately, and it's rather talky .

To anyone bothering to argue with pisher in the comments -- it will only lead to great pain. I'm not going to engage him publicly, because then the blog will have been consumed by pisher. And I'm not going to let that happen.

np -- Stereophonic Space Sound Unlimited, "Jo Siffert"