By Lynn Elber, The Associated Press - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
NEW YORK, N.Y. – ABC is cutting its aging “Dancing With the Stars” back…
NEW YORK, N.Y. – ABC is cutting its aging “Dancing With the Stars” back to two hours and one night next season, creating a slot for a new drama series based on the Marvel Comics world that’s aimed at expanding the network’s audience, its programming chief said Tuesday.
Condensing the celebrity dancing contest on Monday night “opens up Tuesday for a pretty aggressive play,” said Paul Lee, ABC Entertainment Group president, whose network became the third of the major broadcasters to announce its 2013-14 schedule. The network’s entire Tuesday lineup for the fall is made up of new series.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” from hit-maker Joss Whedon of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Avengers” films, will help broaden the audience for ABC, which is the network leader among young adult women, Lee said. The comic-book based series presumably will attract some younger men to the network. “Dancing With the Stars” is big with older women.
By Emily Senger - Monday, May 13, 2013 at 8:20 AM - 0 Comments
Sneak peek at the Bluths reveals a few things are clear
Netflix’s Arrested Development trailer was released late Sunday, giving fans the first peek at what they can expect from the Bluth family in the upcoming fourth season of the resurrected cult television program.
From the video, a few things are clear. All of the original Bluth family members are back, including: Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), George Michael (Michael Cera), Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter), George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), Lindsay Bluth Fünke (Portia de Rosie), Tobias Fünke (David Corss), Maeby Fünke (Alia Shawkat), Buster Bluth (Tony Hale) and Gob Bluth (Will Arnett). Neurotic secretary Kitty Sanchez (Judy Greer) also makes an appearance.
It appears, from the trailer, that Michael has made good on his threats to leave the family and move to Phoenix, Az., Tobias hasn’t given up on his dream of acting, and George Michael and Maeby could rekindle their awkward cousinly romance while sharing a college dorm. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 5:06 PM - 0 Comments
Well, the TV networks will soon be announcing their new series pickups, and there’ll be a lot to say then – like, how many of the new shows are about serial killers? (The ideal pilot, from a broadcast network point of view, would be a single-camera family comedy about a serial killer who only kills zombies – Dexter meets Modern Family meets The Walking Dead meets some other show that every network executive watches.) In the meantime, I wanted to do a little television-theory post, based on an article I read last week.
Salon’s Willa Paskin looked at a lot of episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and concluded that the show was more historically important than funny. While I don’t agree with the conclusion (or, for that matter, with the idea that Mary Richards is a lovable, perfect character; rather a lot of the best episodes, including the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” portray her as a tightly-wound killjoy, and kind of a cold person), I think it’s great to see older TV shows treated as worthy of serious, in-depth analysis, rather than nostalgia, and since no show is sacred, there’s nothing wrong with concluding that a famous or important show is wanting in some respect.
What reading the article brought home for me, though, is that it’s very difficult for a famous television episode to live up to its reputation: if you go into a famous TV episode expecting it to be incredible – and especially, expecting it to be incredibly funny – it will usually disappoint. When you’ve heard a lot about a television episode, it can’t live up to the hype once you watch it, because its reputation is partly based on the element of surprise. TV moments, particularly in non-serialized TV, become famous because we don’t expect them to be as striking and memorable as they are, and they become legendary among viewers who remember the delight of discovering them by accident. When you discover them on purpose, expecting them to be great, the impact is lost.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 4:35 PM - 0 Comments
One of the least important things that happens after a terrible tragedy is that some TV episodes get pre-empted because of their content. Castle delayed an episode about a bombing, and Hannibal has pulled an episode that the creator decided would not be appropriate to air at this time.
But what’s surprising is not that some episodes get pulled, but that there isn’t that much controversy or scapegoating over the episodes that do air. Public officials often look for someone or something in Continue…
By The Associated Press - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 11:38 AM - 0 Comments
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Netflix’s newest original series will be science-fiction from the duo…
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Netflix’s newest original series will be science-fiction from the duo behind the “The Matrix” trilogy.
Netflix announced Wednesday that it will stream “Sense8″ late next year for subscribers. The series is the first foray into television for Andy and Lana Wachowski, the filmmaking siblings who directed “The Matrix” and last year’s “Cloud Atlas.”
Netflix called the 10-episode series “a gripping global tale of minds linked and souls hunted.” The show runner will be J. Michael Straczynski, creator of “Babylon 5,” which aired for five seasons in the 1990s.
Netflix made its biggest splash with an original series last month with the debut of the political thriller “House of Cards,” starring Kevin Spacey. This spring, it will premiere the horror series “Hemlock Grove” and the reborn comedy “Arrested Development.”
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
While some companies might hire developers, Nexflix launches contest for ‘something cool’
When a company wants to improve its product, the normal path might be to hire some new talent and spend a fortune on research and development. Or, it could hold a contest. On March 14, movie streaming service Netflix announced the Netflix Cloud Prize. It’s giving away $100,000 (10 prizes at $10,000 each) to developers who voluntarily build on its open-source code and improve the services it offers over the Internet. Programmers have until Sept. 15 to come up with “something cool,” as the official contest website says.
Today over 33 million people around the world rely on Netflix’s cloud technology; the company based in Los Gatos, Calif., obviously has a lot to gain from improving its services. Holding a contest casts a wide net for talent and attracts attention. And if Netflix, which had a profit of $8 million in its last quarter, achieves everything it’s after—award categories include “best new feature” and “best portability enhancement”—$100,000 seems like a small price to pay.
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 - 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 - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 12:16 PM - 0 Comments
The release of the first season of the loose U.S. remake of House of Cards on Netflix, and the massive publicity Netflix has stirred up for its new method of releasing an entire season at once, has brought a lot of discussion about whether taking in a whole season at once is a good way to watch TV. Encouraging binge-viewing over watching one episode at a time, effectively, is a big part of Netflix’s campaign for the show, as is the idea that distributing one episode at a time is an outdated model: Beau Willmon, the head writer of House of Cards, told the New York Times that someday TV “might even dispense with episodes altogether. You might just get eight straight hours or 10 straight hours, and you decide where to pause.”
Now, some of this talk is inseparable from Netflix’s attempt to take on the cable TV dinosaurs, the same way cable took on broadcast TV. In other words, Netflix’s campaign can be seen as a form of trolling HBO, or at least emphasizing the things they can do that HBO can’t or won’t. There’s a big advantage in appearing to be the distribution model of the future, because if Netflix can convince the world that this is the future of television, then that makes it easier for them to grab the big projects. House of Cards would probably have been more or less the same on HBO or Starz as it is on Netflix, but part of what attracted the producers to Netflix was the promise of being a game-changer and helping to shake up the way TV shows are distributed. The argument at the moment is not so much about what these shows should be like, creatively, as what is the most forward-looking way to release them and the most forward-looking outlet for production companies to go with.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 10:39 AM - 0 Comments
The broadcast networks’ pilot pickup season has begun, but I have trouble thinking about what to say, since we all know most of these pilots will never be seen by the public, and most of them seem to be:
a) A comedy about somebody forced to move in with somebody else;
b) An edgy high-concept drama which will finally, finally at last win back all those Emmys cable has been stealing from their rightful broadcast owners;
c) Based on a book I haven’t read.
But since the start of pilot season coincides with the cancellation of Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, a show I greatly enjoyed for its attempt to bring the sociopathic comedy of American Dad to live action, I thought I might talk a bit about what the networks seem to expect from their comedies and whether they still have the ability to create popular entertainments. Tim Goodman at the Hollywood Reporter reacted to the death of Apartment 23 by arguing that broadcast networks need to lower their ratings expectations, or else smart comedy will be in danger on television: “Anyway, put another tombstone in the crowded graveyard of funny sitcoms. And if the networks don’t recalibrate their expectations about modern-day ratings results, we’re going to need a lot more shovels.”
By Colin Horgan - Friday, January 11, 2013 at 5:00 PM - 0 Comments
Colin Horgan on a new season of a show about the nothingness of 20-something existence
There is a problem with marriages on television, and as I finally, belatedly, sat down to watch the Season 1 finale of Girls, Elaine Blair’s words on that matter were ringing in my ears. The thing about sitcoms, as opposed to cinematic love stories, she wrote earlier this month, is that romantic films “traditionally end at the moment the obstacles are overcome and love is declared.” Sitcoms, on the other hand are tougher territory for relationships, and “script writers, used to working in a mode of farce, struggle to find the right tone for domestic satisfaction.” Perhaps because of that and, as Blair notes, the fact writers and the cast are usually unsure of how long the series will go on and are under pressure to keep things fresh, sitcoms might actually share more with real life. You’re forced to get into things without really knowing where they’re going to end up.
We last left the Girls foursome and their various hangers-on at the bottom of the impact crater of an unexpected summer wedding. After spending much of the previous nine episodes announcing both her bohemian lifestyle in various physical and verbal ways, and–on a specific and particularly expensive (and not at all wine-proof) rug–her derision for anything that seemed too of-the-system, Jessa got married. To that rug-owning, of-the-system guy, no less. The move seemed a weird one, not so much for Jessa, but for the show. The wedding seemed like an abrupt shift in tone. It suddenly felt like a season finale, rather than continuing the strong sense of authenticity or verisimilitude that carried Season 1 to that point. Before the wedding that feeling of the aimlessness of real life Blair hinted at was explored, more or less, honestly. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 12:33 PM - 0 Comments
There hasn’t been a lot of evidence of late that a “special guest star” can significantly boost a show’s ratings. Shows that regularly attract major guest-star coups, like 30 Rock and The Good Wife, see no obvious ratings bumps from them, and many of the most successful shows simply avoid ratings-grabbing stunt casting as being pointless (The Big Bang Theory, for example, usually sticks to guest stars with a science or sci-fi connection). I figured that it’s so easy to see stars whenever we want that there’s no particular novelty in seeing them do a sitcom or drama. However, this morning’s ratings indicate that it is still possible to get a real ratings goose from a guest star, or at least a particular type of guest star. Two and a Half Men, aka Ashton Kutcher’s Paycheck, had Miley Cyrus on last night; I didn’t watch the episode, but it was widely publicized as her first major role as a grown-up, sexy character. (There was that movie LOL, but nobody saw it.) And the ratings for the show went up a huge amount for that episode, particularly in the 18-49 demographic, which makes sense if you assume that some of her Hannah Montana fans have aged into that demographic.
The last time a piece of stunt casting worked that well, that I can recall, was Britney Spears on How I Met Your Mother. That was a long time ago, when How I Met Your Mother was not a show that had overstayed its welcome but a plucky little cult show on the bubble, and not particularly well-respected by its network. The Spears appearance, and the follow-up episode that brought her back, helped to ensure its renewal and turn it from a bubble show into one of the most popular comedies with young people.
What these two stunts have in common is that they featured young stars using the TV guest shot as the first stage in a career transition. With Spears, the transition was more dramatic: the promos were almost inviting us to check out the show to see if she’d finally turned things around and gotten her life back on track. With Cyrus, the invitation was to her fans (or former fans) to see her as she begins her transition away from teen roles. The extra interest in her appearance wasn’t just about seeing Miley Cyrus on TV – anybody can do that. It was about her fans seeing Miley Cyrus like they’ve never seen her before, and following the progress (so to speak) of her career. It’s a bit like the way TV movies of the week used to pull in ratings by hyping former child stars like Eve Plumb in mildly shocking material.
And that might be the key to a successful casting stunt. Getting a star is good, but it may not be enough; it’s been over 50 years since the late-night talk show made it a common, mundane occurrence to see big stars on the TV. But if the guest shot seems like an important part of the narrative that has grown around the star’s career – if it can be sold as a new stage in the stories we’ve been reading about that star’s life and work – then you might have something. I’m not sure if the magnitude of the star matters as much as the magnitude of the story. If a show needs to come up with a bit of stunt casting to improve its ratings for a week or two, and they have to choose between the biggest movie star in the world and a teen star taking on her first adult role, then they should pick the teen star. It’ll just be a bigger story, and the story will bring in the viewers.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, October 8, 2012 at 7:30 AM - 0 Comments
Cue the mutton chops and corsets—networks are crazy about period pieces
A new kind of reality TV is taking over our small screens: fictional shows in real historical settings. Thanks to series like Downton Abbey and Mad Men, actors are appearing in period pieces much more often, wearing costumes and makeup to match. Steve Buscemi has a carnation in his lapel and slicked-back hair on the 1920s show Boardwalk Empire. Tom Weston-Jones wears big sideburns and an even bigger 19th-century hat on the BBC America drama Copper. And on Vegas, a new show starring Dennis Quaid as a lawman trying to clean up the city in the 1960s, Michael Chiklis plays a gangster who dresses like a character out of Guys and Dolls. “There’s never been any time as accepting of period pieces,” says Copper producer Christina Wayne. The question is whether this glut of period dramas will strain that acceptance to the limit.
There’s no doubt networks are more interested in period shows now than they were even a few years ago. BBC America chose Copper, set in New York following the U.S. Civil War, as its first U.S. production (though it’s filmed in Toronto). Former HBO head Chris Albrecht is trying to bring some attention to a different channel, Starz, with a show set in 1959 Miami called Magic City, while Mad Men network AMC has the downbeat anti-western Hell on Wheels, about the journeys of a former Confederate soldier. Greg Walker, who co-created Vegas for CBS, says far from being nervous about the cost or the setting, the network “has been really aggressive in pushing the period elements. They obviously like the sexiness.”
It’s still not clear whether audiences will find period pieces sexy on a weekly basis. Most of the successful ones have been stand-alone movies or miniseries, like the recent hit Hatfields & McCoys, which won Kevin Costner an Emmy for best lead actor. When a period show tries to get us to tune in for 22 episodes a year, it often bombs, like The Playboy Club or the ’60s stewardess soap Pan Am. “It’s untested territory whether there is a big-tent audience for a period show,” says Walker, whose Vegas got off to a good but not spectacular start on CBS and Global. “I don’t know what Mad Men’s numbers are on a season finale, but I’m fairly confident it wouldn’t get you three weeks’ run on CBS.”
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 4:42 PM - 0 Comments
One question to watch out for, when recommending a TV show that has several seasons under its belt, is the question “When does it get good?” or some variation thereon. Except for shows that flame out after season 1, we often don’t think our favourite shows were at their very best in the first season. They’re not fully formed; the characters don’t act quite the way they “normally” would; sometimes we’ll even get character facts that would later cease to be canonical.
There are arguably three different kinds of less-good first season, though they overlap. One is a first season that simply isn’t good enough, and the show re-tools and becomes better afterward. Parks & Recreation is a famous recent version of this. Then there’s the first season that is good, even acclaimed, but doesn’t quite feel like the show we got to know. The first season of Breaking Bad took home an Emmy for Bryan Cranston, but to many viewers, it now comes across as more of a typical dark-side-of-the-suburbs story than the rest of the series. Not bad, just not necessarily the same show they’re enthusiastically recommending to people.
And third, there’s the first season that recognizably is the show, but in a rough or primitive form compared to what came later. The first season of The Simpsons is an obvious example. It’s not that it wasn’t good; those first 13 episodes were a smash hit. And by the end of the first season, the characters are more or less established as what they would be. But the show was slow-paced compared to what came later. It wasn’t until the third season that it achieved a super-fast pace and became the most densely-packed comedy in television history. Someone watching, say, season 2 of The Simpsons for the first time won’t find the show unrecognizable, just a little sluggish by comparison. (Though I should add that I’ve watched early episodes of The Simpsons in crowds and everyone laughed all the way through them, so there goes that generalization.)
The question then is, knowing that the first season is not the best, do we recommend that friends watch from the beginning, or do we encourage them to start later in the show after it gets good?
The answer isn’t always clear, even with shows that don’t have big story arcs and could theoretically be watched from any point. Sometimes the later episodes wouldn’t be as effective, I think, if we hadn’t seen the early episodes. For one thing, the first season of a show is often the most heavily derivative of other entertainment (not yet Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:49 AM - 0 Comments
A show can be a hit, but if its viewers are over 49, chances are it’ll get the axe
A television show can get ratings and still be a failure. That’s what viewers of Harry’s Law discovered, to their chagrin, when the series was cancelled by NBC even though it was the network’s most popular scripted show. The drama, which earned an Emmy nomination for star Kathy Bates, had an average of eight million viewers per episode, compared to four million for the network’s flagship show The Ofﬁce, and fewer than that for renewed shows like 30 Rock and Parenthood. But most of Harry’s Law’s viewers were over the age of 50, and in modern TV, advertisers only pay high prices for viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. “It’s just harder to monetize that older audience,” NBC president Robert Greenblatt bluntly explained after cancelling the show. “Any rational person would argue a hit show with an older audience is better than no hits at all,” says Rick Ellis, founder of the news site All Your TV. “But broadcast television executives are not always known for their rational behaviour.”
Young adult viewers have been TV’s target demographic for decades, because they’re thought to have less brand loyalty and more disposable income. That didn’t make as much difference back when television shows reached a broader audience: if a show was a hit with old people, like The Golden Girls, it usually “brought in enough younger viewers to be viable,” explains Brian Lowry, chief TV critic for Variety. But today, Ellis says, the young audience is “fragmenting and moving to cable,” so different generations are often watching completely different shows. “The problem with the broadcast networks chasing the younger demo is that most of the time they aren’t reaching them,” Ellis adds.
That means there are an increased number of shows only older people watch, and advertisers don’t consider those shows to be hits. Jesse Stone, Tom Selleck’s series of TV detective movies, brought in a large audience of almost 13 million people—but only 10 per cent of those people were under 50, and the series was cancelled. So was CSI: Miami, which remained very popular with total viewers but looked mediocre in the 18-to-49 age group, or the “key demo” as show business trades call it. The need to attract young people also affects the casting of shows that stay on the air: shows like NCIS surround older stars with mostly young casts, and the recent revival of Dallas gives most of the screen time to a new cast of young, pretty people.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, March 23, 2012 at 12:04 AM - 0 Comments
In this post by Rich Juzwiak at Gawker, called “Tune In, Recap, Drop Out”, he explains why he’s gotten fed up with writing TV episode recaps: “I want to be a normal person who’s watching TV, not some frantic note-taking instant replayer.” He also provides a sort of potted history of TV recap culture on the internet, and explains how it evolved to its current state, where readers expect TV episodes to be reviewed almost as soon as they air.
There’s a lot of argument over what constitutes a “recap” versus a “review,” though in practice these terms are very flexible – most recaps include some element of reviewing the quality of the episode. (In fact, many of my favourite TV episode reviews are, formally, recaps. The writer recounts the events of the episode step by step, but from his or her own perspective, enabling us to see the virtues of the storytelling or laugh at its now-obvious flaws.) Pure recaps, just telling us what happened, only work for reality shows and soap operas, genres where you need to follow the ongoing storyline but don’t necessarily have to watch every episode.
I have nothing to say against same-day reviews, or the practice of reviewing every episode of a TV series. I don’t do that, and so I’m grateful to and impressed by people who do. Finding something fresh and interesting to say about an episode, without just being snarky or rehashing the plot, is a really impressive achievement. I do get the impression that the glut of episode-by-episode reviews has created – not a backlash exactly, just a new awareness of the form’s limitations: it can sometimes diminish both a serialized show (by trying to evaluate it before the direction of the season has become clear) and an episodic show (because there’s only so much to be said about any given episode; since the episodes are all somewhat similar, reviewing each one inevitably makes it seem like the show is repeating itself endlessly, even if it isn’t). This is the normal process of give and take, and it doesn’t really say anything bad about the future of the recap/review format; when a form proliferates, its limits become clearer, but eventually it finds its proper place in the scheme of things. The episode-by-episode review format has plenty of life left in it.
But what has occurred to me is that the purpose of the episodic review is going through a bit of a transitional phase, related to the transitional phase in TV viewing. When the idea of episodic reviewing Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 9:38 AM - 0 Comments
A lot of ink was spilled (if bandwidth counts as ink) over Ryan McGee’s post “Did The Sopranos Do More Harm Than Good?”, where he raises the question of whether heavily-serialized, “novelistic” TV has become such an all-pervasive standard that it can lead to weak individual episodes and half-baked serial stories that don’t go anywhere. (Or, as I sometimes put it: after the writers of Nash Bridges went off and did Lost, even the shows that would be better off being Nash Bridges tried to be Lost.)
Like others who have responded, I don’t think The Sopranos is the show to blame for this, if “blame” is the right word, and it probably isn’t. The Sopranos arrived on TV in a time when broadcast network drama had already become very serialized — as John Wells explained in a 1995 article that may have introduced the term “showrunner” to the public, the modern showrunner role in drama came about because TV dramas were too complex to be written by freelancers. And both The Sopranos and Six Feet Under were more reliant on standalone episode stories than almost any subsequent HBO drama.
I’ve worried about the decline of the standalone episode in TV drama. (Not to mention the fact that shows often seem to announce in advance that they’re only doing standalone episodes because they think that’ll pull in some newbie viewers; you don’t get good episodes that way, you get them because you like them and the writers pitched some great stories, like they did on The X-Files.) But I would not blame one particular show or group of shows, and again, “blame” is the wrong word. And it’s Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 6, 2012 at 12:27 PM - 0 Comments
So you may have heard that there was a brief flash of the middle finger on the Super Bowl last night. Will this change TV? That’s not an idle question, even if the controversy is silly. The Janet Jackson incident really did change television, setting back years of censorship relaxation and returning broadcast TV almost to early ’80s standards of censorship – on some things. You could say that it’s because of Janet Jackson that broadcast TV in the U.S. has its current bizarre mishmash of standards, where extreme violence and sadism is fine (as Jon Stewart pointed out in a memorable montage recently), and sexual innuendo goes beyond anything that was previously allowed, but nudity and onscreen sex are strictly self-policed. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
Sex used to be verboten in prime time. Now it’s all everyone seems to be talking about.
Rape, multiple simultaneous sexual partners, and penis size: they’re not reality-show or cable topics, they’re the jokes on major network sitcoms. The flop drama The Playboy Club, expected to be the shocking show of the season, turned out to have mild content. But the most popular comedy on TV, Two and a Half Men, is mostly about sex, with references to acts that would make its former star, Charlie Sheen, blush. The biggest new comedy, 2 Broke Girls, includes a character whose only job is to make comments like, “Once you go Ukraine, you will scream with sex pain.” One of the most promising upcoming comedies, about a cool young woman, is trying to go even farther, starting with its title, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. Mass-audience TV comedy is no longer the place where people sleep in separate beds.
In the ’00s, after Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, there was a panicked crackdown in network censorship, with language and nudity closely scrutinized. But recently, networks have given writers more freedom to talk in scripts the way they talk in real life. Twenty years ago this year, Seinfeld was allowed to do an episode about masturbation only if the word was never used. But Two and a Half Men capped its first Sheen-free episode by giving Jon Cryer the line, “I masturbated and cried myself to sleep.” Taboos about words like “vagina” have fallen so completely that Bill Carter of the New York Times wrote a breathless article proclaiming 2011-12 “the season of the vagina.”
It used to be that if a mainstream show had anything remotely naughty, it would be aired in a later time slot, keeping it away from the so-called “family hour” of the early evening. But to compete with the Internet and DVRs, networks are more willing to air a show like 2 Broke Girls at 8:30 p.m. This has stunned some viewers who expected to be free from orgasm jokes for an hour. “Many parents want to unwind,” says Lee Allport, an online commentator who reacted with shock to 2 Broke Girls’ content on her blog Entertainment ExactLee, “and the thought of their child overhearing quotes such as, ‘Did you flash the bat signal on your vagina?’ can be worrisome.”
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 4:32 PM - 0 Comments
More workplace comedies, more politics, and more old people, please!
Macleans.ca has asked its leading bloggers, pundits and critics to weigh in with what they’d like to see in 2012—in politics, television, film, books, wherever. The wish lists will run throughout the month of December and will be archived at macleans.ca/wishlist.
There are many things I would like to see in television in 2012. More singing competition reality shows. More jokes about sexual organs. More cable dramas about morally-ambiguous protagonists. These things have become so rare. But here are some other things I might like to see.
(1) More action: Or at least less talk. A lot of shows this year set up premises that seem to call for lots of action and chases, like a bunch of people threatened by dinosaur attacks (Terra Nova), another bunch of people threatened by zombie attacks (The Walking Dead) or a couple of vigilantes fighting crime in a creepy illegal way (Person of Interest). But most of them seem to resolve themselves into a lot of talk and a few token action scenes thrown in when the producers sense that we’re getting bored by all the talking. Even the genuine action-adventure shows sometimes seem a bit light on the chases and stunts compared to the shows they’re homaging. Not that every show needs a car chase or an explosion in every act; this isn’t the ’80s. But sometimes it can be a blessing to take a break from the actors and watch stunt drivers instead. Let us just say that Person of Interest needs some heavy rewriting from the ghost of Stephen J. Cannell, or as I like to call him, TGOSJC.
(2) More hastily-scheduled shows: Continue…
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 11:39 AM - 9 Comments
I’m talking, of course, about televisions (get your mind out of the gutter). I recently spent a few days with Sharp’s new 80-inch Aquos TV and, having fallen in love, I’m sad to say I have screen envy now that I’m back to my measly 50-inch plasma. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, November 24, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
As actors, they’re notoriously obstreperous, but babies are television’s hottest stars
Emily Spivey told critics that her new show, Up All Night, with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as a hip couple trying to adjust to the challenge of raising a newborn, has a premise “straight out of my baby journal.” It sometimes feels like most shows this season are straight out of a baby journal. Television shows used to avoid babies if possible; Dawn Jeffory Nelson, a professional “baby wrangler” on movies like the new Harold & Kumar picture, told Maclean’s that babies are usually “relegated to the background,” or “they go up the stairs as babies, and they come down and they’re five.” But today, babies are taking over TV in a way that we haven’t seen since the Olsen twins were on Full House.
The story possibilities of babies seem to have fired the imaginations of writers like Spivey, who based her show on her own experience as a working mother. Producers are aware that a baby can add a new dimension to a show: Nelson says that on Dexter, a show she recently did some work on, the psychopathic title character’s baby son “is becoming an important aspect of Dexter’s character.” The family drama Parenthood has incorporated an adoption and a pregnancy, and creator Jason Katims told TV Line that “The baby arc is really interesting and will essentially last the whole season.” And Last Man Standing is supposed to be about Tim Allen’s relationship with his wife and daughters, but builds a number of plots around his attempts to impart manly values to his baby grandson.
Some of this baby mania may be due to what the Los Angeles Times has described as “the Modern Family effect.” Lily, the adorable baby adopted by the characters of Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), had viewers all over the world cooing over her. Another show that has quietly proven the effectiveness of babies is Raising Hope, from My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia. The show, where the leads are in charge of raising a serial killer’s baby, has proven that the presence of a little girl can make abrasive characters more family-friendly.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 6:00 PM - 4 Comments
Here’s a reason why TV ratings have become more interesting in recent years: paradoxically, it’s because hardly anyone watches broadcast TV any more by comparison with previous eras. Television audiences are still large overall, and a major event (usually sports) can still pull in an old-fashioned mass audience, but cable has been chipping away at broadcast viewership since at least the ’80s, along with all the other things (VCRs, DVRs, the internet, more competitive networks). Whether the smaller audience have improved the quality of broadcast TV is another question (unlike cable programming, which obviously did improve since the early ’90s); probably it’s allowed some shows to survive that would once have been marginal, but it’s more likely that the standard for what constitutes marginal ratings have simply changed, and what was getting 9 million viewers in 1994 would be getting something like a third of that today. But the increasingly competitive world of TV and the famous fragmentation of the audience has made ratings more fun to follow. Instead of every show, even the failures, getting unimaginably huge numbers, we’re down to a point where the failures get amusingly low numbers – and we may soon reach the point where some broadcast shows get overall audiences that would be low by cable standards.
And because the overall numbers are low, that focuses attention more on demographics, analyzing what the ratings really mean when you look at a show’s performance with young viewers. It was supposedly ABC, the perennial third-place network in the ’60s, that really pushed the idea of focusing on the 18-49 demographic, and they did it because they couldn’t yet compete with NBC and CBS in terms of overall viewers. While it can’t be fun for a show’s producers to hear that certain viewers don’t count (and not only older viewers: Glee‘s ratings would probably look better if kids and teens counted in the Demo), it does make it more interesting to analyze: there are more ways for a TV show to succeed than just pulling in some gigantic number of viewers. The focus on the 18-49 demo may not be the best thing for broadcast, as networks have started to notice – though it’s doubtful that advertisers will snap up the network executives’ ideas for commercials aimed at older people. But there’s not much doubt that the list of top shows in the 18-49 bracket is a bit more varied than the list of top shows overall.
So while, like I said before, my own interest in ratings has gone down this season (and it’s not out of the question that DVR and online numbers could eventually be more fully incorporated into overall ratings, thus increasing viewership numbers again), I think the overall interest in these numbers is going to keep going up as the broadcast audiences keep getting smaller. It’s somehow more fun to watch networks fight over a shrinking pie, and argue about which one “really” has the biggest piece.
Of course, last night the real interest on TV, despite the strong ABC lineup (Suburgatory and Revenge are among the few new shows that are showing promise), was baseball: watching it on TV, following it on the internet, wherever. Sports are still the biggest events on television.
By Emma Teitel - Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 1 Comment
A show about a fictional ministry of garbage pokes fun at Afghan politics—and shakes up the TV landscape
The BBC’s famous mockumentary The Office has inspired numerous copycats since its inception in 2001. America’s NBC adaptation, which is about to start its eighth season, popularized actor Steve Carell’s socially inept character, Michael Scott, a paper company manager with a penchant for political incorrectness, sexual indiscretions and a fascination with Meryl Streep. More recent contemporaries are no different: most versions of comedian Ricky Gervais’s original Office production, from France’s Le Bureau to Quebec’s La Job, come complete with almost interchangeable office antics. Every version, that is, except one: an Afghan TV station, Tolo, aired its own Office-style series this summer called The Ministry, replacing office politics with real ones.
The eight-episode series (season two is set to air in October) takes place in a fictional country mirroring Afghanistan, called “Hechland” (translation from Dari: “Nothing Land”), and follows the shenanigans of Hechland’s Ministry of Garbage and its narcissistic minister, Dawlat—played by Abdul Qadir Farookh of the The Kite Runner. Farookh is one of the only actors with professional experience on the production—a Kabul apartment flat converted to a studio by the show’s producers. “Everyone on set is in training,” says 31-year-old Abazar Khayami, one of the show’s senior producers. “But we took our disadvantage and made it into an advantage.”
There is no official television rating system in Afghanistan, but Khayami says it’s obvious The Ministry is one of the most popular shows in the country, as its actors are frequently recognized on the streets and invited into politicians’ homes for dinner. The series’ plots range from government corruption and nepotism to gender inequality and suicide bombings. In one episode, Dawlat the minister (a former New York cab driver who earned his job through pure nepotism) pays off the wrong warlord, setting off a string of suicide bombings he was supposed to prevent. “Nothing is taboo,” says Khayami, noting that things would probably be very different if the show made fun of the Afghan government in a direct, rather than veiled way. “When they are alone in their homes,” he says of real-life government officials, “I like to think they watch the show and laugh. But if we had gone that extra inch and called it Afghanistan [instead of Hechland] and poked direct fun at the administration, then it might be a different story. We’ll never know.”