But since this blog is ostensibly, partly, sometimes about TeeVee and the upfronts just happened, I figured I should post SOMETHING. Only I haven't really read many of the pilots. My favorite of the pilots that I did read, CBS's Chaos, didn't get a pick-up although it may still be in contention for midseason. It's really hard to tell. The problem with Chaos is that it's not really a CBS pilot and unlike NBC or even ABC, CBS doesn't have another network that would be a better fit. Back in the day, they used to make Haunted and then shovel it off to UPN. Although UPN sure didn't know what to do with it. BTW, Haunted is now on DVD if you weren't one of the 5,000 people who watched it when it was on UPN. I'm really proud of that show.
How networks pick up TeeVee shows has changed. Surprisingly, not really for the better. Back in the day, testing was an aid to the networks. A show's life didn't depend on how it tested (see The Mary Tyler Moore Show). But as networks became less creative and more corporate, they needed to find ways to take something speculative and turn it quantitative. And also, the executives needed to be able to justify and keep their jobs. Because that's what the corporate life does to people -- it makes them constantly afraid of being fired. So testing became less of an aid and more of a necessity. If your show didn't test well, it didn't get on. If a crappy show tested great but everyone hated it, it got on anyway (and didn't last long, either). But then businesspeople did what they do best -- they ran the economy into the ground. And the entertainment divisions of these lumbering behemoths had to carry the rampant incompetence of Harvard MBAs on their backs. What that means is, even shows that tested well this season didn't get ordered. It was all about how little a show costs.
While it looks like the networks are flush with pick-ups, don't think for a second that that means TeeVee has recovered. It hasn't. These shows are being given the smallest budgets imaginable. The writing budgets are laughable. And the fight has only started. Don't think for a second that you're gonna see tanks and helicopters and spectacular car crashes in episode two of Hawaii 5-0. And so few of these shows are going to shoot in California because GOD FORFUCKINGBID that shows and movies should get tax breaks here. So even though it looks like the TeeVee business is moving forward, it's actually moving backwards and out of state. And I'm telling you, this is going to have more of a ripple effect towards the future than you think. If you're thinking of getting into this business right now, DON'T. Wait a few years. See what happens.
I'll continue the "Why people who are in finance and business are incompetent asshats" rant. It's affecting baseball (thanks, Frank McCourt) and especially horse racing. There is an Austrian. And it's not Schwarzenegger! This Austrian is the idiotic boob Frank Stronach. He's a horse owner and an all-around rich business type who decided, many years ago, to buy every racetrack he could get his grody hands on. And then, like apparently every business does at one point or another (there must be a graduate class on How To Declare Bankruptcy), his Magna Corporation went effing bankrupt. Naturally, it's absolutely FINE if a business declares bankruptcy. But if a human does it? Christ, the republicans jump all over the lazy, incompetent assholes. Businesses, though, get hand-outs and bail-outs. Magna's problem is that IT OWNS ALL THESE FUCKING RACETRACKS, including Santa Anita. And they are FUCKING WITH IT. The Oak Tree Racing Association, which for forty years has been leasing Santa Anita for their fantastic fall Oak Tree meet, has a sixteen-year contract with Magna. Well, HAD a sixteen-year contract. Some fuckwit incompetent who calls himself the president of this company decided to rescind Oak Tree's lease. For no apparent reason, other than I'm sure that somehow, it saves them money. Corporations are the Han Solos of this world without the character turn.
BTW, this president's name is Dennis Mills. AND I AM COMING FOR HIM.
If these people cared one iota about anything OTHER than money and shareholders and board meetings, then maybe they would find the money a little easier to make. I just don't understand people who care only about finance and deals and mergers and whatever but prior to all of this economic bullshit, I had a "live and let live" attitude. But now, THEY ARE FUCKING WITH ME AND MINE. And that is not cool. So finance and business people, show me that you're not just all fucking idiots who had no talent for anything else. It's on you now.
Back to TeeVee.
Well, shows are wrapping up their seasons and lives (Lost), leading to that wasteland of summer that really isn't a wasteland anymore because there's always Mad Men to look forward to. The only show that's been firing on all cylinders this year is Breaking Bad. There's just not a thing wrong with that show. Vince Gilligan keeps finding ways to up the stakes without changing the show. This is a lesson for the majority of showrunners but then Vince Gilligan is exceptional. He's better than you, he's better than me, he's better than ALL of us. And really, that's been one of about two bright spots on TeeVee. I utterly relish how good he is. It makes me think that maybe there's some light at the end of this corporate tunnel, that at the end of the day, maybe it CAN be about talent and drama and fierce individualism.
Another show that's working for me is Parenthood. It can get a little frenetic in recent episodes and I hope they keep an eye on that. Because this is a fantastic ensemble and the writing has been wonderful. Remember Once & Again? It's like that. I applaud NBC for picking it up for another season. NBC also picked up Chuck. And I really like that show, too. It's proof that television can and should be fun. And I don't mean "fun" as in "it's just goofy, go with it." Chuck's got real characters, too, but it's not trying to prove a point. Ironically, the network that took the most hits with the Leno debacle is bouncing back quite nicely. NBC seems committed to regaining their legacy of the home of the classy drama. It'll be interesting to see how their pilots fit into that. All three of these shows, Breaking Bad, Parenthood and Chuck, are different legs of the TeeVee table.
A show that used to be the fourth leg of that table, Doctor Who, just isn't working. I was SO looking forward to seeing what Steven Moffat would do with Who, especially given the episodes he had already written, his magnificent miniseries Jekyll, and his TeeVee resume. This is a guy who should have knocked this out of the park but so far, he's just fouling off one slider after another. It's hard to judge Matt Smith and Karen Gillan at this point because their characters haven't been developed at all. Maybe Moffat has something magnificent up his sleeve and all of these weird pegs will fall into place at some point but we're over halfway in right now and nothing is working. It's too frenetic by half and those wonderful emotional moments that Russell Davies did so well just aren't there. The last two episodes, Vampires Of Venice and Amy's Choice, slowed down the pacing a bit. And that was good. But aside from the first of the two-parter, these episodes don't have any teeth. To be disappointed by Doctor Who is to be disappointed by television in general. Come on, Moffat. Step it up!
Scattered comments. From Jeff:
Isn't Mad Men a show with writers portraying writers?
Why, yes, I suppose it is! The advertising talk definitely feels like a writer's room. I wrote a Mad Men spec and the ad campaigns were the most fun part of it.
It appears that the pilot for the "Rockford Files" retread, remake, re-imagining -- whatever, is a huge dud. Everyone is pointing fingers at everybody for the failure. Here's a thought, maybe it was a bad idea to try to do remake of a show that was completely dependent on James Garner for its success.
They all seem to be pointing the finger squarely there. This is exactly like the Mad Men episode where they're trying to use Bye Bye Birdie for the ad campaign but it's not working and finally Roger, Scotch in hand, goes, "She's not Ann-Margret." Without James Garner, The Rockford Files isn't even a premise. On the other hand, Hawaii 5-0 has Hawaii. Everybody is bathed in that heavenly golden light and they all look gorgeous.
Posting this today because I may have some junk to say about Lost after tonight. It's ending or something?