By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, April 4, 2013 - 0 Comments
Terrible news for anyone who loves movies, or reading about movies, or hearing about movies: Roger Ebert has died.
He was only 70, and it was an inspiration to all of us that he had overcome so much bad luck – the cancer that finally killed him, the loss of his speaking voice – and continued to use the power left to him, the power of words and the ability to communicate with an audience through his writing. Two days ago, he announced that he would have to curtail his writing due to his health. So this wasn’t unexpected, but it was still a shock that it happened so soon. We’re all going to have to get used to being without his prolific writing and formidable knowledge of film. And how many film critics were so famous and respected that their deaths rated a statement from the President of the United States?
For Ebert at his best, I would recommend getting a DVD or blu-ray of Citizen Kane and listening to his audio commentary on the film. This is a picture whose importance everyone acknowledges, but before Ebert, it was sometimes hard to explain why it was such a staggering technical achievement, or how Orson Welles did what he did. Ebert spends 120 minutes explaining, in clear but uncondescending terms that laymen can understand, all the special effects that went into the film (“It has as many special effects as Star Wars,” he famously says), the deep-focus shots, the way the characters are placed within the frame and why. It’s partly a master-class in film technique, but more importantly it’s a lesson in how technique informs storytelling; the why of the technique, as well as the how.
There are so many aspects to his career that you could write pages on each one: the young film reviewer, able to relate instinctively to the new American cinema of the late ‘60s and ‘70s in a way that older Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 1:20 PM - 0 Comments
Today NBC officially announced what an endless succession of leaks had already announced for them in advance: Jimmy Fallon will take over The Tonight Show in 2014, and the franchise will move from Los Angeles to New York. Lorne Michaels, Fallon’s mentor, will continue to produce his version of The Tonight Show, giving Michaels almost complete power over NBC’s late night operations, considering he also produces Late Night (which is expected to install another smirking Michaels favourite, Seth Myers) and Saturday Night Live.
Think of it as a form of consolidation. If you’ve ever been in a workplace where a bunch of different departments were shuffled together under the same management, you have an idea of what NBC and Comcast are doing here. They’ll wind up with very little variety in late night, since every show will have the Michaels brand of humour and – if Myers does take over – both the big late night hosts will be smirking youngish white guys who used to sit at the Weekend Update desk. But media companies are more interested in “branding” than variety these days, and having Michaels in charge of everything will give them a “brand” across the whole late-night spectrum.
By Jaime Weinman - Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Fights, werewolves, a heroine whose power is sexiness: no wonder Lost Girl is a hit
Here’s one kind of television that Canadians may be doing better than Americans: titillating fantasy with lots of fights, stylized sets and people in monster makeup. The show that offers this kind of wildness is Lost Girl, the story of a beautiful succubus (Anna Silk) solving supernatural mysteries that is completing its third season on Showcase and has just been picked up for a fourth. It’s been one of the Canadian channel’s highest-rated shows since it began in 2010, consistently winning its time slot on the Syfy network in the U.S. And instead of a serious genre show, it’s what writer and current showrunner Emily Andras calls “a world of mermaids and werewolves and sex manatees.”
Executive producer Jay Firestone says he started developing the show several years ago when friends pointed out that TV had nothing like Buffy the Vampire Slayer anymore. When he set out with writer-creator Michelle Lovretta to change that, he found that a lot of networks thought the idea of a girl-power fantasy show was “old news. I got one network executive telling me the show was too much like Witchblade, a show that didn’t last.”
Networks wouldn’t have been so dismissive of this kind of show in the ’90s, when the first-run syndication market and a proliferation of cable networks created a demand for low-budget action shows that made up with humour what they lacked in money: Buffy and Xena: Warrior Princess were two of the most popular. But in today’s TV world, science fiction tends to be quite dark and serious, like Battlestar Galactica. “A lot of incredible genre stuff is quite earnest right now,” Andras says, and even shows that could be campy, like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, are basically solemn.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, March 22, 2013 at 5:07 PM - 0 Comments
In some ways, Matt Seitz’s review of David Mamet’s Phil Spector (premiering Sunday on HBO) says a lot of what I was going to say. And this article from the L.A. Times has given us a look at Mamet’s distortions of fact, not to mention his reduction of Lana Clarkson to nearly a non-person, in his attempt to argue that Spector was railroaded. I’m still going to try and find some words for it. Lurking somewhere in this basically unsatisfying movie, there’s a potentially interesting two-character play; nearly all the best scenes are set in Phil Spector’s house, and feature Al Pacino ranting and raving while Helen Mirren, as Linda Kenney Baden, tries to bring him down to earth. It’s not the freshest Mamet dialogue, and the tension that should develop between the actors isn’t really there. But it works all right as a series of sketches with Pacino as the comic and Mirren as the straight woman, though even in these scenes you feel like the deck is being stacked in favour of Spector: he may be crazy, but he’s the only person in the movie who’s having any fun, so how can we not root for him?
But this is not a play, it’s a 90-minute TV movie, and so we get a law procedural on top of the two-character play. Lots of discussion about guns and bullets and plastic dummies and putting people on the Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:38 AM - 0 Comments
You don’t know how much fun it is to see the Tonight Show wars starting up again. I know that it’s a legacy franchise that is more talked about than watched – remember back in 2010, when so many Conan supporters never watched him until they knew he was leaving – but the position of Tonight host still carries a certain prestige and recognition, and nothing gets people more interested in TV inside-baseball stuff. The best part is, once people start leaking Tonight rumours to the press, more and more rumours are sure to follow; it’s a snowball effect. So the earlier leaks about a plan to replace Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon in 2014 were followed by yesterday’s Bill Carter article, where his sources tell him that Fallon is going to move The Tonight Show back to New York for the first time since the early years of Johnny Carson.
The leak is, in part, meant to demonstrate the depth of commitment NBC has to the move: if they’re working on a new studio in New York, as Carter is informed, then they must really mean business – though on the other hand, they built a big new studio for Conan O’Brien, and look how that turned out. Still, the one thing about moving the show to New York is that it would permanently divorce it from the Leno years, in a way that didn’t happen when O’Brien moved from New York to Los Angeles. Leno is famous for disliking New York (Carter’s sources have claimed that he thinks of New York as Letterman’s town, and hasn’t been able to perform at his best there since the days when he was on the Letterman show). You could cynically say that Fallon has to stay in New York to prevent Leno from following him there. Also, staying in New York might enable Lorne Michaels, Fallon’s patron, mentor and producer, to have more of an active role in the new show; Michaels was not allowed to produce O’Brien’s Tonight Show.
By Bookmarked and Jaime Weinman - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
No one exemplifies the contradictions of modern pop music recording better than Clive Davis. A business of freewheeling, weird artists took its marching orders from straitlaced guys in suits—like Davis, a Harvard-educated lawyer who was installed as head of Columbia Records in 1966 because he was considered “unlikely to make rash or unnecessarily provocative moves.” Taking power at a time when popular music was changing irrevocably, Davis was able to sign and nurture many important artists, such as Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith, because he lacked the preconceived bias against rock music that more musically trained executives had.
Because Davis already dealt with his Columbia years in his previous memoir, Clive: Inside the Record Business, this book starts to cover new ground only when he describes being fired from Columbia and beginning his new company, Arista Records, whose signature artists included Whitney Houston. But even with a personality as outsized as Houston, Davis is mostly the businessman, cataloguing deals and hit albums while trying to disavow too much knowledge of the things that destroyed her: “As close as I get to the artists I work with,” he writes, “I try not to get involved in their personal lives.”
Davis is less reticent about his own personal life, revealing that he discovered he was bisexual after his second divorce, in 1985. But though he makes a poignant case for tolerance and understanding, that hasn’t changed his hard-nosed attitude to his job: at times, he seems like a caricature of an executive who thinks artists are too inclined to follow their hearts. Many anecdotes are devoted to singers who rejected his advice and learned they were wrong—most famously Kelly Clarkson and her change-of-pace album My December. He writes, “I really didn’t know what to say to her when she told me that money wasn’t important to her,” adding, “as it happens, I have no choice but to care about money.” That may sum up his place in the music business as well as anything.
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 1:44 PM - 0 Comments
I haven’t had much to say about Girls lately, though I liked the early episodes very much. The show still has many impressive and beautiful moments, but in some ways it’s more of a dark relationship drama than a social comedy, and when it went that way it didn’t hold my interest the way Enlightened did. (Maybe liking Enlightened became my hipster alternative to watching Girls. Though I should say I know a guy who loves Girls but can’t watch Enlightened because he finds Laura Dern’s character too annoying. I guess it’s a matter of what kind of annoyingness you identify with more.) There is no such thing as a show you have to have a strong opinion about, and while Girls is often held up as a love-it-or-hate it kind of show, I’m think the wishy-washy alternative of not loving or hating it is still available to many.
There is a lot of loving or hating of Girls going on out there, though, and I wanted to say a little something about the backlash against the show. After the initial backlash for being too white and insular started to fade a bit, the second season backlash has been very vocal and even personal – there are few shows that have inspired as many angry comments sections on as many publications as this one. There have been many explanations for this, and I’m sure each one can apply to some haters of the show: dislike of the people the show deals with; resentment that it’s being held up by the media as a portrait of a particular generation; greater tolerance for self-indulgent male filmmakers like Louis C.K. than self-indulgent female filmmakers; resentment that Dunham hasn’t “paid her dues.” And yes, there are sexist commenters, though I do think they seem to be outweighed by the people who just hate all the characters. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 12:49 PM - 0 Comments
A friend pointed me to the (long, long) opening credits of this unsold pilot from 1984. Even as a veteran sniffer-outer of TV cheese, I had not known about this one: Aaron Spelling came up with a two-hour pilot for ABC about beautiful women who work by day as aerobics instructors, but work by night as secret agents, riding motorcycles and helicopters and blowing things up with booby-trapped lipsticks. All under the supervision of their tough-but-fair house mother Polly Bergen, and set to a New Wave-ish theme song. Yet ABC turned it down and burned it off as a TV movie. You never know what foolproof ideas those networks will reject.
Believe it or not, there is a little bit of actual serious TV history that goes with this jaw-droppingly ridiculous clip. 1984 was a period of transition for all three of the old networks, as they were in the process of clearing out the shows and programming strategies that had worked for them in the late ’70s, and transitioning into new strategies to deal with increased competition (from cable and home video). ABC Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter has been offering suggestions to the broadcast networks of what they can do to stave off their impending doom. First he suggested that NBC turn itself into a cable network, simply accepting the fact that low ratings are the new normal and operating the way a cable network does. Then he argued that the network model needs a Steve Jobs type of visionary to change it from the ground up. Now he’s suggesting that networks should pledge, in advance, that they will let certain shows they believe in run for a full season, so that we can get into these shows without fear that they’ll disappear too early.
Now, I’m all for giving advice to the broadcast networks – I do it myself, constantly and smugly – but I don’t think these ideas would probably work. When it comes to adopting the cable model, what basic cable networks have going for them above all is not their willingness to take risks, nor their ability to greenlight personal shows, nor even their greater freedom on language (broadcast networks pretty much pulled even with cable long ago when it comes to bloodshed). Their biggest advantages are, one, they have a revenue stream based on people who buy their service as part of a package, whether they want to watch the channel or not; and two, they don’t have to program a full week of original material to make money. The biggest adjustment cable people make when they move to broadcast, and the thing that trips them up the most, is that they have to put on so much original programming. Some of it is good, some of it is terrible, some of it is in-between, but it all has to go on the air.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 11:13 AM - 0 Comments
Everyone’s always talking about movie continuations of cancelled TV series. Mostly Arrested Development, where the team recently revealed that they don’t have a script or a studio, but they continue to tell us that the Netflix episodes are leading into this unmade movie. But the creator and star of Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell, are taking a more sensible tack: they’re telling fans that they can have a movie if they help finance it.
In one of the most ambitious Kickstarter projects to date, Thomas and Bell are trying to raise $2 million to help defray the cost of making the film. Warner Brothers, which owns the show but expressed doubts about whether there’s a market for such a movie (the disappointing box-office of Serenity was probably a big blow to other cult TV shows trying to get movies made), has agreed to make the film if they can reach their fundraising goal. I suppose even a low-budget film would wind up costing the studio more than what they raise on Kickstarter, if you include all the costs that go into production, marketing and distribution – but meeting the Kickstarter goal would help reduce the studio’s risk; it would also prove, maybe even more importantly, that there are people out there who like Veronica Mars so much that they’re willing to pay money for it, a much better sign for a movie than people who are willing to watch it for free.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
… and for good reason, as Jaime Weinman explains
Nostalgia for 1990s kids’ shows is big today, but there’s been comparatively little attention paid to perhaps the biggest ’90s hit of all: Ren & Stimpy, the creation of Canadian cartoonist John Kricfalusi. Its original run, from 1991 to 1996, established cable TV as a major outlet for smart cartoons. “People just love the subversive brilliance of it,” says Thad Komorowski, a U.S. animation blogger who has just written a book about the show, called Sick Little Monkeys. With ’90s nostalgia sites like Buzzfeed choosing to focus on more child-friendly shows like Rugrats, the new book might be the best way to remember how large a big dumb cat and an angry chihuahua loom in animation history.
Kricfalusi founded Spumco, Ren & Stimpy’s production company, after working on shows like Fonz and the Happy Days Gang where everything was done in the least creative way. “Layout artists just photocopied model sheets and cut and pasted them into new positions,” recalls Canadian animator Mark Mayerson. Film archivist Reg Hartt adds that by the ’90s, outsourcing had created a system where “animation, ink and paint and everything else was scattered around the world.” Though not easy to work for, Kricfalusi became a refuge for people who hated those compromises as much as he did. “He wanted it to look great,” says Canadian cartoonist Bob Jaques, who supervised the animation for many Ren & Stimpy cartoons. “Other studios did not care what the work looked like as long as it was good enough to broadcast.”
When Ren & Stimpy premiered, adults and children alike became fans of Kricfalusi’s attempt to revive wild physical acting. Even The Simpsons, which started the season before, depended more on writing than animation, but Mayerson says Kricfalusi “rejected the idea of stock poses.” Instead, Jaques says, “actions and acting were, as much as possible, tailor-made,” with stories told more through drawings than dialogue. The book chronicles how new techniques in animation and painting were used to create episodes like “Stimpy’s Invention” (with the “happy, happy, joy, joy!” song that became a ’90s catchphrase).
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, March 11, 2013 at 11:37 AM - 0 Comments
This is the sort of thing that warms the heart of sitcom buffs and probably drives everyone else crazy: someone gathered all the Petticoat Junction introductions together in one video, to show how a sitcom intro developed through multiple cast changes, the switch from black-and-white to colour, and the final collapse into a show where hardly any of the original cast is left. I wish someone would do this for One Day at a Time (all the intros are online, but not grouped together in one video like this). As someone has noted, this is one of the reasons why many shows today avoid elaborate intros with the characters in them: when actors leave, or new characters are added, you don’t have to go out and reshoot everything.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, March 11, 2013 at 10:55 AM - 0 Comments
Because there are certain things you can’t get away with saying or doing in ad-supported TV, the medium has often used genre stories, like fantasy and science fiction, to say those things covertly. And another fertile ground for hidden meanings is the period piece, where M*A*S*H could tell Vietnam stories at a time when Vietnam was still off-limits outside the news. One thing about The Americans, a period piece and a sort of genre piece (the espionage thriller form that shows like 24 and Homeland have helped to codify for modern TV), is how it uses its genre trappings and ’80s setting to deal with things that another drama – a modern-dress show, a realistic show – probably couldn’t.
On the level of genre entertainment, The Americans is a suspense piece about Russian spies with perfect American accents, and since people like Matthew Rhys are taking American actors’ jobs with their perfect American accents, it’s not such a fantasy – it can happen here. On the emotional level, it’s a show about marriage, where the missions teach the characters something about the secrets, lies and differences of opinion inherent in making a marriage work. The mission in episode # 5, for example, is explicitly set up to be about the issue of how much married people should tell each other and how much they should trust each other, and episode # 6 is all about the dangers of trusting anyone – your spouse, strangers in cars, lovers, governments. (If there’s one thing TV has taught us, is that you can’t handle a case effectively if you cannot somehow connect it to your personal life.) But like many good period pieces, it has a resonance beyond its own time and place. For one thing, it works surprisingly well as a War on Terror story. Or if you don’t want to get that specific, as a story that deals with some of the security issues that are on our minds today, but that would be impossible in a modern setting, or without the slightly campy trappings of the period thriller form.
When I say you couldn’t do The Americans in a modern setting, I mean you probably couldn’t get away with it. The basic idea of the show is to tell a national-security story from the point of view of the enemy, and not just the enemy, but the enemy within: people whose mission is to fulfil our worst paranoid fears by infiltrating our society and working to take it down. (In TV’s best bipartisan tradition, Continue…
By Bookmarked and Jaime Weinman - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
U.S. presidents aren’t known for being buddies with their vice-presidents, but the relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon was especially distant. The former general repeatedly considered dropping Nixon from the ticket, and may have scuttled Nixon’s first presidential campaign by implying that he didn’t help with policy decisions. Yet as Frank recounts, the two men developed a grudging relationship based on “if not affection, then whatever it was that they alone shared.” They even wound up becoming relatives when Nixon’s daughter married Eisenhower’s grandson.
The book gives us a younger, more likable Nixon than we usually see, more friendly to civil rights than the president, who tried to evade the issue until it became impossible. We also see Nixon’s “tricky” persona in the making: when he was in danger of being cut loose in 1952, he used the power of television and class resentment to wriggle his way out of trouble in the immortal “Checkers speech.”
Because most of the book is from Nixon’s point of view, it doesn’t give a clear understanding of Eisenhower’s political goals. The Ike in Ike and Dick is almost a throwback to the way he was portrayed in the media of the time, a befuddled old man who didn’t take anything seriously except golf. But by showing us Nixon’s struggle to maintain power in a somewhat hostile administration, Frank allows us to see how Nixon developed the techniques he would use as president, and perhaps a bit of what he learned from Ike: how to be, as Nixon put it, “a ruthless executive who often used others to carry out unpleasant assignments.”
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:23 AM - 0 Comments
Yes, I know, it’s early to speculate about the future of Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon on the basis of some unsourced rumours. And I also know that the story of a network trying to replace Jay Leno with a younger man has already played out, and remakes are never as much fun. But while I have no idea if the linked story is real or just a rumour somebody put out to see how the public would react, it’s a given that the network will try to replace Leno with Fallon at some point, and now is as good a time as any to discuss how the situation differs from the situation in that long-ago, far-away time when Heroes was still on television.
Leno remains, to the consternation of many (including me, I’m afraid), the #1 late-night host: #1 in viewers, #1 in 18-49. Jimmy Kimmel hasn’t changed that, not yet anyway. He just seems to be the default choice for many people – particularly, I suspect, people who like topical humour but aren’t liberals. Leno carries on that old tradition of delivering the day’s news in humorous form and with no partisan edge (or any edge) to it. That gave him an advantage over Conan O’Brien, who’s never been very interested in political humour; one reason affiliate stations preferred Leno was that his show was a better fit with the 11 o’clock news, because viewers would watch the news and then wait around to hear Leno’s jokes about the news they had just heard. He’s the late-night comic for the old media viewers, and there are still enough of those viewers to keep him in business.
On the other hand, Leno’s position now is probably less secure than it was back when O’Brien was taking over. Back then, the network promised O’Brien the job five years in advance, probably hoping or expecting that Leno’s ratings would decline by the time he left. Instead, he remained popular enough that there were competing offers for him, particularly at ABC, which was considering bringing Leno in at 11:30 and bumping Kimmel to 12:30. Jeff Zucker panicked and did whatever it could to keep Leno from defecting, and the solution he came up with was the crazy 10:00 experiment. (Which, by the way, looks a lot Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:18 AM - 0 Comments
This piece, “If people talked about Seinfeld like they talk about Girls“, has gotten a lot of positive attention, but I think there’s a flaw in the point it’s making. It’s trying to apply these criticisms to Seinfeld to show how ridiculous they are, and how the people who make them about Girls are applying a double standard. But most of these criticisms are perfectly legitimate criticisms to make about either show. And in fact, people did make most of these criticisms about Seinfeld at the time. Jerry is too much of an annoying, ordinary-looking twerp to get so many beautiful women; the characters are selfish jerks; nothing happens – these sound like my father’s reasons for not liking Seinfeld. They don’t apply if you find the show funny, as many millions of people did, but they’re not self-evidently silly.
So I think the author is almost proving the opposite of the point he’s trying to make. Because most of these anti-Girls arguments are ones that people would naturally make about a comedy they don’t like, and because they make just as much sense from the point of view of someone who doesn’t like Seinfeld, the piece suggests that there isn’t as much of a double standard as the writer thinks.
I’m not denying that there are people who would be less rough on Girls if it were Boys. But unlikable characters, lack of plot, and self-indulgence are open to criticism in any comedy with selfish characters, small-scale stories, and a creator/star. It’s just a question of whether we thought it worked or not, and then the question is why we thought that way. Maybe we thought the characters were selfish without being funny, or they crossed certain boundaries that separate selfish from hateful (as the Seinfeld characters arguably did in the finale). But this is where the disagreements take place, not on whether the objection itself is illegitimate. If the show is not amusing to you, then, yes, the characters will come off as “selfish, petty narcissists.”
There is one argument that I think the article scores a direct and solid hit against, and that is the argument about nepotism. That argument has always been absurd, since it has nothing to do with the quality of the work we see, and so it is exposed as absurd when he notes that Julia Louis-Dreyfus also has a rich relative most of us have never heard of. That’s a good comeback. But for the rest, I think it rests on the fallacy that a) People didn’t make these criticisms about Seinfeld (when they did) and b) There is never a good reason to make these criticisms (when there is).
Update: Kelli Marshall has gathered some examples of actual ’90s Seinfeld-bashing. Quotes like “Seinfeld is the worst, last gasp of Reaganite, grasping, materialistic, narcissistic, banal self-absorption” and “Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine never spoke for my New York.”
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 3:25 PM - 0 Comments
U.S. pilot season is a dog-eat-dog world where huge amounts of money are wasted on shows no one will ever see, and it is, all in all, a pretty good thing. (In theory it might be more efficient to make fewer pilots, and networks are always talking about it – but the huge number of pilots is part of what keeps the U.S. TV industry humming, because there’s a lot of work out there around this time. If we had more pilots in English Canada, even more failed pilots, we’d probably have a stronger TV industry.) But since most of these pilots will never see the light of day, at least until the networks do the sensible thing and put failed pilots online, it’s hard to know what to say about them until we know which ones made it and which ones didn’t.
What I do like to look at around this time of year is which directors got to do pilots and which ones didn’t. As you know, episodic TV directing is not and never will be a glamour job: these directors do amazing things on tight schedules and budgets, but it usually can’t be a creative enterprise like film directing sometimes is. The TV director must stick to a visual template created by someone else and shape the performances to fit in with the way the characters behaved in the other episodes; those decisions, the heart of directing a film, are really made before he or she shows up on the set. Which means that the closest thing TV directing has to a glamour job, especially now that TV movies are not very prestigious, is the TV pilot. Even there, the director does not have full power –
a Martin Scorsese is a hired gun on Boardwalk Empire in a way that he isn’t on most of his feature films. (Update: I am told that Scorsese originated the project through his production company, so this was not the right example to use; here’s an article from a couple of years ago with some examples of feature-film directors doing pilots, and at least some of them were hired after the script was picked up.) But the pilot director gets to set the look of the series and shape the performances from scratch. Every subsequent director will be to some extent imitating the pilot director. Plus the pilot director often gets residuals from the series.
But there often doesn’t seem to be a system by which episodic TV directors are “promoted” to pilots. I get the impression it happens more often outside the U.S. industry: the pilot of Lost Girl (just picked up for a fourth season) was by frequent episodic TV director Erik Canuel, and the first episode of Luther was by Brian Kirk, a director who handles a lot of TV episodes on both sides of the ocean. But in the States, it sometimes seems like the Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 5:57 PM - 0 Comments
Noel Murray’s most recent “Very Special Episode” column was about The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and how much those science fiction TV shows (cheesy as they often were) meant to young sci-fi fans before Star Wars brought the genre into the entertainment mainstream. But it occurred to me, reading the column, that there’s something else about those shows that you don’t see very often today: they were prime-time, broadcast television shows aimed in large part at children. Today most shows aimed at children are children’s shows – mostly on children’s cable networks. But there used to be a whole category of what I’ve come to call “lunchbox shows,” because they were so popular in merchandising and turned up on a lot of kids’ lunchboxes.
The Dukes of Hazzard was the first prime-time show I remember seeing on a classmate’s lunchbox, and that’s a quintessential lunchbox show: after its first few episodes, which were slightly more adult (all lunchbox shows usually started that way, since they were almost never planned as kids’ shows), it emerged as a prime-time show with the simple stories, characters and action that kids loved most of all. Knight Rider, as Berke Breathed famously noted, was another prime-time kids’ show; so was The A-Team; so were most of the science fiction shows between Star Trek and Babylon 5. But while lunchbox shows tended to censor themselves to avoid anything that would bring the blush of shame to the cheek of a young person, they were not kids’ shows in the sense of a Disney or Nickelodeon show. (Sometimes lunchbox shows even had semi-adult material: Charlie’s Angels was not a “family hour” show, but it was watched by kids – it certainly explained every plot in terms that the youngest child could understand – and featured tie-in merchandising for children.) Lunchbox TV dramas usually had very few kids in the cast, and they might have more adult references than you could get on Saturday morning TV, since no prime-time TV show can afford to broadcast to children to the exclusion of adults. They were to TV as Star Wars was to film: entertainment for kids who didn’t want to watch kid stuff.
Lunchbox entertainment is still big in the movies. Star Wars is the great lunchbox franchise, but it’s being challenged for supremacy by the Marvel movies. These are films that are not marketed as Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 12:52 PM - 0 Comments
Nikki Finke’s Deadline.com gets a lot of traffic when it’s linked by the Drudge Report, and you can usually tell which posts are linked: they’re the ones where the commenters proclaim the reason nobody watches NBC is because of its relentless liberal agenda. But sometimes Finke herself writes like she agrees with these commenters – or is at least trying to empathize with them – and never more so than on Oscar night when she was one of the first to criticize the show for having Michelle Obama on:
As if Hanoi Jane weren’t fuel enough. Oh My God – the Academy actually fans the fire by drafting First Lady Michelle Obama to help present Best Picture from presumably the White House? So unnecessary and inappropriate to inject so much politics into the Oscars yet again. Hollywood will get pilloried by conservative pundits for arranging this payoff for all the campaign donations it gave the President’s re-election campaign. I don’t understand this very obvious attempt to infuriate right-leaning audiences. Clearly the studios only want to sell their movies to only half of America. And here I’d thought Spielberg had overreached at the Golden Globes by bringing Bill Clinton onstage…
I wasn’t even sure if she means it seriously or is just trying to get some link-bait, but it doesn’t make sense either way. I’m all for Hollywood not being out of touch with half the country, but this does not apply to the First Lady, who is married to the president of the whole country. More importantly, the number of people who would be infuriated by the mere presence of an Obama on their TV screens is not the same as the number of people who didn’t vote for Obama. It’s a much, much smaller number.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 25, 2013 at 12:02 AM - 0 Comments
Well, the most important news out of the Oscars is that Ben Affleck thanked Canada. This obviously makes up for everything, including our inability to make our own movies about our stories.
But, I suppose, some non-Canadian stories need to be dealt with. I wrote a piece about whether Seth MacFarlane’s stint as host of the Oscars would establish him as the live-action, onscreen star he clearly wants to be. And after his opening monologue, someone snarked that that piece was instantly dated. Well, the art of predicting the future won’t be perfected until the robots take over. Now, for all I know, the wide reaction to his performance might not have been as negative as it was among people I know – after all, in a world where Identity Thief is a hit, there is no consensus on what’s funny. But if the question was whether MacFarlane could translate his behind-the-scenes popularity into onscreen popularity, then it seems at first blush like the answer was “no.” Even before he held up the ending of a show that was running late to perform yet another musical number.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 11:45 AM - 0 Comments
Not every failed TV show deserves an oral history – strange as that may sound – but I’d read one for Up All Night, which seems to be one of the two shows that most epitomizes the weirdness of Bob Greenblatt’s tenure running NBC. The other one is Smash, Greenblatt’s highest-priority project and the one he seems to have been most invested in; its failure in the second season, coming on the heels of his statement that the first season was an “unqualified success,” may do the most to raise doubts about his track record picking scripted shows. Up All Night wasn’t as big a failure, and if the network had simply canceled it, it would just be another one of those shows that managed to survive for a second season but didn’t quite work out (along with Whitney and Harry’s Law and a few other shows the new NBC regime picked up). The constant retooling of the show, beginning as soon as the pilot was delivered, turned it into a joke, and has culminated in the insane recent series of stories where one by one, people abandon the show while the network tries to figure out how to keep it going in some form. The most recent story is that Will Arnett has accepted an offer to star in a CBS pilot from Raising Hope creator Greg Garcia. I don’t actually know if Arnett has what it takes to headline a show; certainly Running Wilde didn’t make him seem like a plausible lead. But how can CBS resist the temptation to stick a finger in NBC’s eye like that?
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 3:40 PM - 0 Comments
There’s nothing quite as inspiring as finding a cheesy sitcom intro that you had never seen before. Okay, there are maybe one or two things more inspiring, but still, this warmed my heart. It’s a Canadian (CTV) sitcom from 1988 called “Learning the Ropes,” a combination of two things that were popular in TV – cheesy syndicated family sitcoms and professional wrestling. I would describe the premise, but it has an opening narration that does it for us. And this opening narration, done by an announcer whose voice I recognize but whose name I don’t know, is followed by a whole synth-accompanied inspirational theme song. And it ends with a clip of hugging. And the hero, played by the late Lyle Alzado, is a professional wrestler and the vice principal at a school and a single dad to two teenagers, making it like three sitcoms in one. And the theme song attempts to rhyme “rule” and “possible.” And it features a young Yannick Bisson and Stephanie from Degrassi Junior High. So while I’m not saying that this is the greatest thing Canada has ever done, it certainly suggests that we could hold our head up high in the schlocky ’80s sitcom world.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 11:27 AM - 0 Comments
I was going to write something about the controversy over the Girls episode “One Man’s Trash,” and specifically the arguments over whether Lena Dunham and Patrick Wilson were a plausible couple. I decided what I wrote didn’t really work, and besides which a) There’s probably enough Girls discussion already, and b) The discussion of these issues tend to turn a writer into Rex Reed or, even worse, John Simon. (If you think people are unpleasant about Melissa McCarthy or Lena Dunham, just read that collection of Simon’s horrifically nasty comments about Liza Minnelli – we have a long way to go before we can match that guy for sheer hate.) So I’ll let that episode go for now.
But the discussion did illuminate something for me about our expectations when it comes to a character’s looks. We all know about the famous sexist double standard for looks in film and television. An ordinary-looking or overweight man is more likely to be paired with a beautiful woman, while the opposite pairing almost never happens. Even a woman with looks that are just unconventional – like Liza Minnelli, see above – will sustain the types of attacks that a Dustin Hoffman, say, doesn’t usually get once he becomes a star. But even though we’re more used to that kind of pairing, it still jars us more in fiction than it would in real life. Jason Alexander is married to a tall, good-looking woman, but it looked silly to us that George Costanza was going out with tall, good-looking women. Woody Allen’s ability to get women on the screen is more puzzling to us than his ability to get those same women in real life. And so on.
The main reason for this is that in real life there are many different reasons why people would get together, beyond looks – which, after all, are subjective. But the actors are often playing characters who Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 10:45 AM - 0 Comments
Enlightened is about to wrap up its second season (its season finale will air on March 3). Unless HBO decides it likes the show a lot, there isn’t likely to be any more: the first season got almost no viewers and, worse for HBO, very little buzz. They were able to get a Golden Globe for Laura Dern, but they couldn’t get people talking about it the way people talk about Girls (a show that doesn’t have a whole lot of viewers, but is constantly in the news and may drive some subscribers HBO’s way). It didn’t have a clear selling point the way Girls does; that show is almost as much about the behind-the-scenes story of a new talent and a new generational perspective in TV as it is about what happens on the screen. Enlightened is a half-hour comedy-drama conceived as a vehicle for an actress who’s been in the business a long time, and both HBO and Showtime have had so many of those shows that it’s hard for one more to stand out. Today’s shows almost need a compelling promotional hook as much as they need a compelling story, just because there are so many shows fighting it out for our limited time.
I don’t think the second season has been quite as overwhelming as the first, though that still leaves it as one of the most interesting shows on TV. Mike White, who created the show, acts in it, and writes every episode, made some subtle changes to try and get a slightly bigger audience, as outlined in this New York Times article. In keeping with convention, he added more of a serialized story to the season, reducing the first season’s sense of floating in space, of not quite knowing Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Will the Oscar-hosting gig be the Family Guy creator’s stepping stone to onscreen superstardom?
Many performers have hosted the Academy Awards, but Seth MacFarlane, host of the 85th annual show, is something different: he’s not known for performances where he’s actually seen. As a TV creator and producer, MacFarlane became one of the most powerful people in show business thanks to the success of Family Guy, for which he also does many of the voices; he followed that up with two other animated series, then transitioned into live-action filmmaking by writing, directing and voicing Ted, one of 2012’s most popular comedies.
You wouldn’t think he had anything left to prove— being the highest-paid writer in TV with a reported salary of $33 million a year, and having influenced many other cartoons, such as Robot Chicken, a pop-culture parody created by Family Guy voice actor Seth Green. But recently, MacFarlane has been trying to get out in public—he hosted Saturday Night Live and sang at London’s Royal Albert Hall before landing the Oscar hosting job. It’s part of his attempt to go from animator to live-action star—and his colleagues think he can do it. “Watch this guy go,” says Family Guy and American Dad composer Ron Jones. “He will astound everyone.”
The transition from cartoonist to performer isn’t quite as strange as it might sound. Van Partible, creator of Johnny Bravo, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon where MacFarlane achieved early success as a scriptwriter, says, “the best cartoonists need to have a working knowledge of acting so that they can get their characters to perform and emote in a believable way.” Because of that link, many other writer-creators from the ’90s animation boom, such as Mike Judge (King of the Hill), are also vocal actors. But these other creators don’t usually try to separate themselves from the cartoon characters they play. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park (who have bashed MacFarlane’s work on their show) accepted starring roles in the movie BASEketball after South Park took off. But the film bombed, and the pair settled for an offscreen role for their next project, achieving live-action success writing but not starring in the musical The Book of Mormon.