CHANGING TIMES MAY PROVE ROCKY FOR SEASON 6 OF “MAD MEN”
A TV Review by Tim Riley
The AMC cable network has garnered a ton of awards and plenty of critical acclaim for the groundbreaking drama series “Mad Men,” now entering its sixth season. It’s not the type of show you can starting watching at any given point unless you have been a committed viewer from the beginning.
Series creator Matthew Weiner sent a cautionary note along with the screener for the two-hour premiere of the new season entitled “The Doorway.” He asked that critics refrain from revealing certain things, including the year the season begins and whether the ad agency has expanded to an additional floor.As anyone following the show can gather, the series is no longer rooted in the early, optimistic days of President Kennedy’s tenure in office.
By now, the days of Camelot are long gone and the war in Vietnam has become a strain, turning the Sixties into turbulent and unsettling times. Lyndon Johnson is simply not an appealing figure for the era. There was no way around the fact that advertising executives like Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) are creatures of the early Sixties, when excessive drinking, smoking and general carousing were tolerated in the workplace.
As time marches on, the challenge for “Mad Men” is to keep its relevance with a changing world. Don Draper’s philandering ways are so habitual that we can hardly expect him to change even though he remarried. Of course, “Mad Men” has always been preoccupied with the existential crisis faced almost daily by Don Draper, a man of assumed identity who has no real sense of who he is.
A telling scene is when Don returns from a Hawaiian vacation with his younger, attractive wife Megan (Jessica Pare) back to the grind at the firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Asked to pose for an office photo, Don asks what he should do, and the photographer replies: “I want you to be yourself.” Don says nothing but the look on his face says everything.
Earlier, during the Hawaiian vacation, the restless Don is alone one night at the hotel bar and in a conversation with a soldier shipping out to Vietnam, they accidentally swap Zippo lighters. Later on, Don tries to throw away the other soldier’s lighter only to have the maid return it to his nightstand, reminding him that his own Zippo was never really his to begin with.
Death creeps into the storyline in several ways. Returning drunk one night from a funeral, Don insists that his doorman tell him what it was like to have a near-death experience and what did he see on the other side. Roger also has issues with death, oddly showing little emotion at the death of his beloved mother, but breaking down in tears over the passing of a minor, unseen character.
Weiner also asked that critics not reveal the status of Don and Megan’s relationship. There’s plenty of complexity to address about their marriage, but just keep in mind the dubious nature of Don’s moral character. I think “Mad Men” was always at its best when it focused on the interactions of the creative people working at the Madison Avenue ad agency.
Let’s face it, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the overtly ambitious advertising executive jockeying for higher position at the firm, is not a likeable character, but he gets the job done better than his superiors. Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) was a creative talent at the firm who became frustrated with Don’s erratic behavior and decided to move on to another agency. Her absence from the firm, though not from the series, is a real loss.
The sexpot Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) became a partner last year when she accepted a sleazy proposition from the odious Pete Campbell to sleep with a client in order to land the Jaguar account. It will be interesting to see where she goes this season. One thing frustrating about “Mad Men” is the often randomness of events that require you to pay attention. For instance, the significance of Don reading a passage from Dante’s “Inferno” on the Waikiki beach won’t be known until the very end of the episode.
Other happenings are so strange as to be unsettling. Don’s ex-wife Betty (January Jones), long since remarried, has an awkward bedtime scene with current husband Henry (Christopher Stanley) when she suggests an act of felonious sexual conduct. Betty also does other weird things, such as visiting a dangerous tenement in the East Village in a vain search for a violinist prodigy who fled the comfort of the suburbs.
Having entered “The Doorway,” I am not entirely convinced that I want to continue the journey. And yet I remain tantalized enough that I will probably have to watch more episodes. The show has an almost hypnotic appeal. A book published a year ago, entitled “Mad Men on the Couch” and written by Dr. Stephanie Newman, analyzes the show’s primary characters through the lens of modern psychology, asking questions like “Why does Don constantly sabotage himself?” and “Why is Betty such a cold mother and desperately unhappy housewife?”
I guess one good reason to keep watching “Mad Men” is that the psychological analysis of the characters will be constantly evolving.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAKES A BIG SPLASH ON ITS TV CHANNEL
A Special Article by Tim Riley
National Geographic is not just a magazine anymore. It’s a growing cable channel with a presence on television that goes beyond travelogues and stories about animals, either the wild or domestic kind. For the first time ever, come February, National Geographic Channel will present its first original scripted drama, ,” based on Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling novel.
At the winter press tour gathering of the nation’s TV critics, Howard T. Owens, president of the Channel, announced the “next foray into factual drama” comes with the purchase of O’Reilly’s “Killing Kennedy.” No announcement was made about who will play JFK. Bill Pullman stars as a fictional president in NBC’s new comedy “1600 Penn.” He was also commander in chief in the film “Independence Day.” Maybe he’s a candidate; we just don’t know.
Now back to the Lincoln film, writer and executive producer Erik Jendresen told critics that the recent Steven Spielberg film is a “prequel” to his “Killing Lincoln,” which is focused exclusively on the events leading up to the assassination. Jendresen delivered his assessment after being asked by a critic about what was being covered that was not addressed in the Spielberg film or in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” Critics sometimes can’t distinguish fact from fiction, which is why the make lousy historians.
For National Geographic’s film, Billy Campbell plays the role of Great Emancipator, and he is certain to endure inevitable comparisons with Daniel Day-Lewis, especially with the Academy Awards season upon us. Yet, it is important to note that Spielberg’s film celebrated the victory of Lincoln on the passage of the 13th Amendment, while “Killing Lincoln” is really the story of the tragedy that came so quickly after the end of the Civil War.
Documentaries about the military are not new to the Channel, but “Inside Combat Rescue” will take viewers within the harrowing world of the brave airmen who risk their own lives to rescue fallen warriors.
For the first time in history, the United States Air Force is allowing cameras to follow the elite unit of rescue warriors during a four-month deployment in Kandahar, Afghanistan As we all know, the world did not end in December according to the Mayan calendar. Nevertheless, the Channel’s big hit series “Doomsday Preppers” continues to follow those awaiting a catastrophic event.
New episodes of “Doomsday Preppers” will include a Florida businessman fearing an electromagnetic pulse will make the world go dark; a Native American convinced economic collapse will result in social chaos; and a family hiding away in the mountains waiting for a comet to hit the Earth.
A different test of survival skills will be found in “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” where eight tough Alaskans are dropped into the harshest wilderness for fifty days with nothing more than a backpack and their own endurance capabilities.The Alaskan adventure will probably make the new series “Mudcats” look easy in comparison. The Okie Hand Fishing Invitational is a fierce competition as teams hunt for colossal flathead catfish using only their bare hands.
Bragging rights and a $10,000 grand prize are on the line for the 10 week contest, as mudcatters dive into river caves and dangerous deep waters to wrestle the big fish out of the water. Rod and reel enthusiasts may want to tune into the second season of “Wicked Tuna,” which follows a group of spirited fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts, as they make their living searching for the elusive bluefin tuna in the turbulent waters of the North Atlantic.
Dog lovers already know about renowned dog behaviorist Cesar Millan, who gained wider fame and success as the result of the long-running and aptly named series “Dog Whisperer.” In his new Nat Geo WILD series “Leader of the Pack,” Cesar Millan is combating the global issue of canine abandonment and giving “unadoptable” dogs a second chance at life. Millan’s new show takes place in the beautiful country of Spain, where each week he transfers extreme canine cases to his new Dog Psychology Center in Miraflores, just outside of Madrid.
In each episode, three candidates from the U.K., Italy or the Netherlands compete for the chance to adopt one special pup, with their dog skills put to the test in a series of special challenges.The potential owners all share one passion – they want to become the “Leader of the Pack.” But first, Millan evaluates each prospective adoptee to assess their canine compatibility.
Given that some people go to extremes to pamper their domestic pets, it’s probably not surprising that Nat Geo WILD’s new series “Spoiled Rotten Pets” spotlights some of the most outrageous and hilarious examples of pet owners being excessive and extravagant.Frankly, I found it hard to believe that there is a spa for pet pigs where domesticated swine are pampered by having their skin exfoliated. Hey, we never saw this type of treatment for Arnold on “Green Acres.”
THE AMERICAN FILM MARKET NOT UNTOUCHED BY WORLD EVENTS
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The unpleasant reality of today’s world is that the global economy is not so hot. This makes the selling of films problematic when countries like Greece and Italy are floundering in a state of financial distress.
The economic picture isn’t so rosy on the home front, but at least we have the American Film Market pushing all types of independent films on weary buyers from around the globe. It’s a film industry stimulus package.
The annual American Film Market (AFM) allows the global film industry to converge in the sunny seaside city of Santa Monica for eight days of deal-making on films in every stage of development and production. The lesson of hard economic times is that the public is historically in mood for escapism, and what better way to forget your troubles than to spend a few hours at the cinema or watching the latest DVDs?
That may explain why AFM is boasting an increase of buyers and more buying companies attending, with over 440 movies from more than 30 countries being screened at local venues, including 82 world premieres. Trends are important to the film industry, not just ones affected by demographics. Yet, the youth market must be served, which explains the popularity of the “Hunger Games” franchise that is just getting underway.
Meanwhile, we can thankfully put to rest the whole romantic vampire/werewolf fantasy nonsense of the “Twilight Saga,” which mercifully ends with “Breaking Dawn Part 2” this month. Okay, I must confess that I never once watched Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan falling in with Robert Pattinson’s vampire Edward Cullen.
If I commit to watching five film installments, it will have to be something like James Bond. AFM seeks to fill the void for the youth market with the usual mix of B-grade horror and zombie films, along with a few teen sex comedies that seem relatively dated and quaint.
The best way to get a flavor of the schlock cinema on offer is to visit the hotel rooms and suites where the independent film companies peddle their wares like sidewalk vendors in New York’s Chinatown. Of course, the setting is the elegant surroundings of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, where the occasional glimpse of the majestic Pacific Ocean is a compensating factor.
The traffic in the halls and hotel rooms of the beachfront hotel seemed rather subdued this year, holding almost as much excitement as a Saturday night bingo game. The most fun to be had is a search for the worst possible films.
To that end, my first stop has to be a visit to Troma Pictures, purveyors of classic cinema like “The Toxic Avenger” and “Surf Nazis Must Die.”Troma apparently has been resting on its laurels. Their only upcoming film is a sequel called “Return to Nuke ‘Em High,” and though it has maniacs, mutants and half-naked girls, it offers no promise of new ground in sleaze.
Just like last year, the zombie film genre remains very much alive (if that’s the way to put it) at AFM. In “A Little Bit Zombie” a mild-mannered office manager, infected by a virus, tries to keep it together so as not to incur the wrath of his bridezilla-to-be.
“101 Zombies” has a typical premise. A small southern town finds itself the center of a zombie apocalypse when tainted local moonshine half its residents into the flesh-eating undead. The Dutch are getting into the zombie business with “Kill Zombie!,” a tale of four hung-over friends, emerging after one night in jail, to find that Amsterdam has been ravaged by a zombie outbreak.
Even the Chinese, the ones from Taiwan, are promoting what is billed as the “first genre movie combining apocalypse and zombie in Chinese film history” in a cataclysmic bloodbath called “Zombie 108.”
There are plenty of horror films, running the gamut from the “Saw” variety to the more traditional. A company called Nu Image was promoting “Texas Chainsaw 3D” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.” They looked to be the same, so it was a bit confusing. Nu Image was also promoting a film in development called “Before I Go to Sleep,” based on a bestseller, about a woman whose memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Produced by Ridley Scott, the film is notable because it will star Nicole Kidman.
The premise of “Falling Down,” which starred Michael Douglas as an unemployed engineer, is taken to the extreme in “Axed.” Here the guy who loses his job goes on a murderous rampage against his ex-boss and his own family. It’s also fun to come across film titles that remind you of an entirely different film. One such film is “Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman.” The titular character is a ruthless hit-woman, who appears in the advertising dressed in a bikini and toting heavy weapons.
Destruction of the earth is also a big theme. “Independence Daysaster” coincides with the North American continent burning to rubble on the 4th of July. Giant spiders conquer the world in “Archnoquake,” and in “Ghostquake” the spirits of the dead are unleashed by a massive earthquake.
According to the Mayan calendar, our planet comes to an end in late December. “End of the World” brings about Armageddon when mysterious plasma spheres pummel the earth’s surface. Fortunately, this movie is not likely to be released in time to stoke our fears.
On a brighter note, Myriad Pictures is promoting Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsley as an ordinary man who reaches his breaking point in the action-thriller “A Common Man.” AFM is also the place where you can find the forgotten stars of the past.
For instance, Steve Guttenberg stars in a German-produced film called “Fatal Rescue.” My guess is that we’ll never see this thriller stateside.The American Film Market is a fun place to learn about what type of films appeal to the global market.
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Unlike other TV networks, CBS launches its fall season of new shows the old-fashioned way, sticking to the format of what is called “premiere week,” which this year begins on Monday, September 24th. Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, was asked about the tried-and-true formula during the biannual gathering of the nation’s TV critics this summer.
“It works for us,” Tassler said, adding that premiere week succeeds because “we like the excitement and the energy and the marketing and promotional machine that leads up to the fall.” But then, unlike NBC, CBS didn’t have the luxury of running ads and promos during the Olympics. An advantage for CBS, which may well help the network to keep its number one status, is that a new show like “Elementary” has people talking about the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes once again.
Tassler acknowledged that TV programming is a “very cluttered, noisy universe.” One way to cut through the thicket is to also have a new show like “Vegas,” which is getting a lot of attention because “Dennis Quaid is coming to series television,” a selling point that the CBS executive was quick to note. CBS, more so than other networks, has the opportunity to take more risks in scheduling new shows. As Tassler says she never gets tired of talking about, CBS scored “another broadcast television trifecta this year. We’re number one in viewers. We’re number one in upfront revenue. We’re number one in Emmy nominations.”
Okay, the Eye network has had bragging rights for several years now, and this year, with strong second and third year shows like “2 Broke Girls” and “Person of Interest” and “Hawaii Five-O” and “Blue Bloods,” CBS can afford taking chances even if one or two of the four new series come up short. For the best new series, it may well be a toss-up between “Vegas” and “Elementary,” dramas with interesting storylines and starring versatile actors who have proved to be accomplished in several mediums.
Dennis Quaid played Bill Clinton in the TV movie “The Special Relationship,” but now he’ll be the main character in a series.A drama inspired by the true story of former Las Vegas Sheriff Ralph Lamb, “Vegas” tells the story of the gambling mecca emerging from the tumbleweeds in the 1960s.
Quaid’s Ralph Lamb is a fourth-generation rancher tasked with bringing order to Sin City. Lamb wants to be left in peace to run his ranch, but Las Vegas is swelling with outsiders and corruption which are intruding on his simple life. Recalling Lamb’s command as a military police officer during World War II, the Mayor appeals to his sense of duty to look into a murder of a casino worker – and so begins Lamb’s clash with Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis), a ruthless Chicago gangster who plans to make Vegas his own. Assisting Lamb in keeping law and order are his two deputies: his diplomatic, even-keeled brother, Jack, and his charming impulsive son, Dixon.
Carrie Anne-Moss (“The Matrix”) plays the key role of ambitious Assistant District Attorney Katherine O’Connell, who grew up on the ranch next to the Lambs and also lends a hand in preserving justice in Las Vegas. “Vegas” pits two powerful men at the opposite ends of the law, engaging them in a fierce battle for control of the budding gambling oasis. Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis (who gained fame as a tough guy in “The Shield”) are worthy adversaries, and “Vegas” should be a fun show to watch.
“Elementary” stars Jonny Lee Miller as detective Sherlock Holmes, but this is not the fictional sleuth made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The new Sherlock is a modern-day crime solver helping the NYPD to crack its most impossible cases. Sherlock Holmes is joined by Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. Again, this is not your standard issue Dr. Watson either, who is now female and Asian.
Following his fall from grace in London and a stint in rehab, eccentric Sherlock escapes to Manhattan where his wealthy father forces him to live with a sober companion, the aforementioned Dr. Watson. A successful surgeon until she lost a patient and her license three years ago, Watson views her current job as another opportunity to help people. However, the restless Sherlock is nothing like her previous clients.
Sherlock claims that none of Watson’s expertise as an addiction specialist applies to him and he’s devised his own post-rehab regimen – resuming his work as a police consultant in New York City. Watson has no choice but to accompany her irascible new charge on his jobs. But Sherlock finds her medical background helpful, and Watson realizes she has a knack for playing investigator.
Though Sherlock may be a real oddball, the New York police know that from his previous experience working with Scotland Yard, Sherlock is brilliant at closing cases. With the mischievous Sherlock Holmes running free in New York solving crime, it’s “Elementary” that Watson has a big job to keep the super sleuth grounded. “Made in Jersey” is billed as a drama, but I am not so sure. After all, a Jersey girl named Martina Garretti (Janet Montgomery), a young working-class woman who lacks an Ivy League education ends up employed at a prestigious New York law firm.
How does Martina, a more refined version of the nasal-voiced Fran Drescher, fit in with her pedigreed Manhattan colleagues? Moreover, Martina is supported by her big and boisterous Italian family, including her sexy older sister Bonnie and her encouraging mother Darlene. The whole set-up sounds like a comedy routine. There’s bound to be a bunch of laughs from a woman who uses her street smarts to survive the cutthroat landscape far removed from her blue-collar background.
But the script calls for Martina to stay true to her roots as a bold, passionate lawyer on the rise in a new intimidating environment. I am taking a wild guess that “Made in Jersey” may bite the dust faster than The Situation can flex his muscles on the Jersey Shore. CBS has one new comedy in its lineup. The saving grace for “Partners,” which is not exactly groundbreaking material, is that it airs on Monday nights sandwiched in between “How I Met Your Mother” and “2 Broke Girls.” The network executives may be counting on couch potatoes too lazy to reach for the remote to change channels in mid-stream.
“Partners” is based on the lives of the show’s creators, about two life-long best friends and business partners whose relationship is tested when one of them is engaged to be married. Why this is so is baffling to me. David Krumholtz’s Joe is an architect who wants to marry Ali (Sophia Bush), a jewelry designer. Joe’s buddy and business partner is Louis (Michael Urie), who is not only gay but emotional and prone to exaggeration.
The two guys are very different, and besides Louis has a new companion in Wyatt (Brandon Routh), a vegan nurse who Louis insists is just a promotion away from becoming a doctor. Again, what does it matter to Louis if Joe wants to get married? The premise of “Partners” does not seem to have staying power, and this show could last shorter than the average Hollywood celebrity marriage.
Actor Scott Speedman The Early Days
ABC STAKING A CLAIM TO ALL GENRES FOR THE FALL TV SEASON
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Only last year, the ABC TV network was programming several female-driven new dramas. As a result, “Revenge” scored big time, seemingly across the board in several demographic categories. On the other hand, the reboot of “Charlie’s Angels” and the retro appeal of “Pan Am,” both shows featuring attractive female leads, flopped big time.
That the TV business is fickle and unpredictable could not be underscored more than by the failure of last year’s network shows geared to 1960s nostalgia, popularized by the cable show “Mad Men.” I am referring to NBC’s “The Playboy Club” as well as “Pan Am.”
These evocative series sought to grab the essence of “Mad Men’s” gold standard for drama, ignoring the fact that AMC’s popular cable show generated the number of viewers that would sink a show on a network.
Speaking to a gathering of the nation’s TV critics last summer, Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment, proclaimed himself as willing to take “some risks in broadcast.”Fast forward a year, and Lee is singing the same tune for the TV critics once again, going so far as to remind everyone that “we took risks last year, and it’s really, really fun.”
Expounding on the risk-taking theme, Lee also observed that he loves “the idea that this is a network that can really take risks with the different genres. You see risks up there this year with the shows that we are doing.” Well, the network executive’s claims may be valid, but one thing for sure is that there are no remakes of vintage TV series that once held appeal because of the original actors.
This year’s fall schedule on ABC has the look of everything for everybody, with a range of genres from comedy to drama, suspense to thriller, and romance to fantasy. Having this pointed out by a critic, Lee responded that “ABC has a brand,” and that the network tends to “tell great emotional storytelling.”
“We do provocative shows,” Lee professed, going on to say that ABC does “shows that are really driven by character and emotion.” This may be as good a reason as any for the new series “Last Resort.”To be sure, as submarine captain Marcus Chaplin, Andre Braugher brings character and emotion to his role in “Last Resort” when he is relieved of duty for failure to follow a command.
But then, his replacement officer (Scott Speedman) is also conflicted about following orders. The U.S. ballistic missile submarine was told, over a radio channel limited to a doomsday scenario, to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan. Unable to obtain confirmation of the orders, the submarine and its crew find themselves under attack and then declared rogue enemies of their own country.
The show’s co-creator, Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) told critics that “Last Resort” is not the kind of show that would seek cooperation from the Navy in order to get script approval from the military. Yeah, this show doesn’t sound like John Wayne and “The Green Berets.” Reba McEntire has become her own cottage industry of country music superstar and actress on the screen, large and small, and the Broadway stage.
Now Reba returns to a sitcom as a woman who moves her children away from her cheating husband in Nashville and seeks to revive her singing career in the foreign land of sunny California.In “Malibu Country,” Reba is joined by her sharp-tongued mother Lillie Mae (Lily Tomlin), a surefire bet for comic relief.
Reba learns that relocating to Malibu is quite a challenge to her traditional southern values, while her offspring have their trials and tribulations of fitting in. Sticking to the country music theme, ABC’s new drama “Nashville” explores the battle for popularity between a fading country legend and a rising star.
Connie Britton’s chart-topping Rayna Janes finds her popularity is waning. Fans still line up to get her autograph, but she’s not packing arenas anymore. Rayna’s record label suggests a concert tour where the legend opens for up-and-comer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the young and sexy future of country music.
But the scheming Juliette can’t wait to steal Rayna’s spotlight. Meanwhile, Rayna doesn’t want to share the stage with the untalented little vixen. Hence, the inevitable power struggle ensues. The title of new drama “666 Park Avenue” is somewhat revealing. Does this mean Satan has a penthouse in the ritziest part of Manhattan? No, not exactly. But it is still troubling, nonetheless.
The seductive address is for The Drake, a fancy apartment building owned by the mysterious Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn) and his wife Olivia (Vanessa Williams).Unsuspecting new tenants, an idealistic young couple (Rachel Taylor and Dave Annable), are given the opportunity to manage the historic building in which supernatural forces endanger the lives of its residents.
In “666 Park Avenue,” The Drake, home to an epic struggle of good versus evil, maintains a dark hold over all of its tenants in this chilling supernatural drama.A very different sort of neighbors is found in a gated New Jersey townhome community with its own golf course in the new comedy “The Neighbors.”
Debbie and Marty Weaver (Jami Gertz and Lenny Venito) buy the first townhome in Hidden Hills to come on the market in 10 years. From day one, it is clear the residents of the community are a little different. For starters, the new neighbors all have pro-athlete names like Reggie Jackson, Dick Butkis and Larry Bird.
The Weavers soon learn that the entire community is comprised of aliens from Zabvron, where the men bear children and everyone cries green goo from their ears. With the exception of an early November date for “Malibu Country,” new ABC series launch in late September and early October.
NBC LAUNCHING ITS FALL TV PROGRAMS WITH HELP FROM OLYMPICS
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The London Olympics kicked off with Queen Elizabeth arriving at the opening ceremony in a Union Jack parachute. It was a good start to the 2012 games. For Michael Phelps, not so great.
While so much attention is focused on how Team USA will perform in this year’s Olympic Games, NBC is poised to take advantage of its broadcast rights for self-promotion. This is the time of the year for the summer edition of the biannual TV critics press tour, where lowly scribes get the lowdown on the upcoming TV Fall season.
Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, wasted no time in telling the assembled critics at a press conference that NBC has an “incredible promotional platform with the Olympics and we’re going to take advantage of it.” Until recently, NBC was mired in last place among the major television networks, but things have been looking up since the Spring, and even the Summer offers a ratings boost with “America’s Got Talent” and “American Ninja Warrior.”
Now the two-week run of the Olympics offers NBC opportunities to advertise their shows and even to program a few sneak peeks following nightly Olympic coverage. The Matthew Perry comedy “Go On” will get a sneak peek commercial-free airing on Wednesday, August 8th, while another comedy, “Animal Practice,” gets the same treatment on Sunday, August 12th, following the Closing Ceremony.
Additionally, NBC will do a special six-minute preview of “Revolution,” the big new Fall drama, during the Olympics on August 4th. Greenblatt noted that the strategy is to continue the momentum through August and into September, because the network doesn’t want to “just go dark for six weeks leading up to premiere week,” traditionally set for the end of September.
Meanwhile, NBC is betting heavily on a bunch of new comedy shows, which are always tricky at best to grab an audience, even when you have a good cast. Last year’s failure of “Free Agents” should be a reminder. As part of the Olympic push, “Go On” stars Matthew Perry in a somewhat familiar setting, or at least a recognizable character, which he played in “Mr. Sunshine.”
Perry’s Ryan King is a recent widower and sports talk radio host ready to get back to work after the loss of his wife. But his boss (John Cho) has a different plan in store for Ryan, making him attend grief counseling before returning to the air. A reluctant Ryan finds himself in a support group for “life change” where he meets an oddball cast of characters.
Given his rebellious nature, Ryan convinces the group to deviate from their normal session procedures, to the chagrin of the group leader (Laura Benanti). Back at work, Ryan realizes he may need the group more than he thought. “Animal Practice,” a comedy centered on Justin Kirk’s unorthodox veterinarian Dr. George Coleman, also gets the Olympic treatment.
Dr. Coleman has a gift with animals, but his ex-girlfriend (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) has inherited the family animal hospital, so you know conflict is brewing.Tyler Labine, who has been funny in TV shows like “Mad Love” and “Sons of Tucson,” is a welcome addition to the cast as Dr. Dough Jackson, another vet better with animals than humans.
One of the big stars of this show is Crystal, a capuchin monkey who steals the show. She was also the main attraction at the NBC cocktail party, posing for pictures.“Guys With Kids” is a new comedy from Jimmy Fallon about three thirty-something dads who try to hold on to their youth as they face the responsibilities of having small kids.
Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford and Zach Cregger try to balance work or staying at home, whether happily married or happily divorced. “Guys With Kids” seems like familiar, hashed-over turf, and as such, may prove a tough sell.
Everyone in the business thinks show creator and producer Ryan Murphy (“Glee” and “Nip/Tuck”) is a genius. So now he is trying his hand at comedy with “The New Normal.” I count “Glee” as a musical series. “The New Normal” works off the premise that in 2012 families come in all forms – single dads, double moms, sperm donors, egg donors and one-night-stand donors.
Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) are a Los Angeles couple and they have it all. Except, they want a baby to complete the family unit. Along comes Goldie (Georgia King), a young single mother with a checkered past, looking to escape her dead-end life and small-minded grandmother (Ellen Barkin).
Moving to L.A. with her precocious eight-year-old daughter to change everything, Goldie decides to become the guys’ surrogate because she’s broke and desperate. “Revolution” is an ambitious one-hour drama that puts one family in a struggle for survival when every piece of technology, from computers to the electrical grid, blacks out forever.
A young woman, Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos), and her brother Danny (Graham Rogers) face obstacles when Danny is abducted by militia leaders for a darker purpose, and Charlie reconnects with her estranged uncle (Billy Burke), a former U.S. Marine living a reclusive life.
Living up to its title, “Revolution” is about a rogue band of survivors setting out to rescue Danny, overthrow the militia and re-establish the United States of America. Dick Wolf’s new drama, “Chicago Fire,” may be a less large-scale drama, but it has a lot in common with the “Law & Order” brand, with firefighters now substituted for cops.
“Chicago Fire” focuses on the courageous firefighters who forge headfirst into danger. Tension arises at the firehouse when tragedy claims one of their own, and as a result conflict arises between Jesse Spencer of the Truck unit and Taylor Kinney of the Rescue Squad.
One day after the Olympics, NBC premieres a reality competition show, “Stars Earn Stripes,” that pays homage to those who serve in the U.S. armed forces.A wide range of celebrities, from Dean Cain to Todd Palin to Nick Lachey to Picabo Street and more, will gather at a remote training facility to compete in complicated missions inspired by real military exercises.
WILL BROADWAY BE THE SAVIOR OF THE NBC TV WINTER SEASON?
A Special Article by Tim Riley
It’s that time of year again when the nation’s TV critics gather for the winter press tour that unveils the mid-season shows of the networks and cable outlets.
3The first TV network on the agenda is also the most troubled one, a malady continuing to plague the NBC TV network, even with new leadership at the helm. This past summer, Bob Greenblatt arrived at his first conference as the newest NBC Entertainment Chairman, telling the assembled scribes that he was “very excited and bullish” about the fall season.
It seemed like just yesterday that “The Playboy Club,” attempting to cash in on the swinging Sixties vibe generated by “Mad Men,” would result in success. Yet, the show was cancelled faster than Hugh Hefner’s last engagement to a centerfold model. So Chairman Greenblatt confessed that his network had “a really bad fall,” and admitted that it was “worse than I’d hoped for.” He must hope his bosses are patient.
In any case, the NBC executive, admitting that developing new shows is “a bit of a crapshoot,” appears to be staking much of his reputation, if not career, on a big musical drama that will premiere the day after NBC televises the Super Bowl. “Smash” celebrates the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater as it follows a cross-section of dreamers and schemers who all have the common desire of delivering a smash production.
The series centers on the process of creating a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, not an entirely farfetched notion. Debra Messing stars as a partner in a successful songwriting duo with Christian Borle, while Anjelica Huston jumps on board as a tenacious Broadway producer.
A rivalry soon forms during the audition process for the lead role between youthful, inexperienced Midwestern beauty Karen (Katherine McPhee, “American Idol”) and stage veteran Ivy Bell (Megan Hilty), who’s determined the leave the chorus line for a big break.
“Smash,” though it is executive produced by Steven Spielberg,” looks very much like an insider show that may not have mass appeal. Maybe this is why Greenblatt claimed that it is not “a make-or-break” show for his network.
The verdict on NBC’s mid-season moves may come swiftly with the launch of two new series that are on the verge of a debut as this column is being written. “The Firm” may have the advantage of being a well-known product, as it is based on John Grisham’s best-selling novel which in turn became a Tom Cruise movie.
Stepping into the Cruise role of attorney Mitch McDeere is Josh Lucas, who picks up the role of the former associate of the Memphis law firm ten years later. “The Firm” opens with an intriguing conspiratorial tone, with Mitch running for his life through the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial.
Apparently, after a decade in Witness Protection, Mitch and his family settle in Washington, D.C., where he starts up a law office with Juliette Lewis, the feisty receptionist, and Callum Keith Rennie, playing his volatile older brother, an unorthodox investigator.
The standard-issue plot points that are familiar to any number of other legal dramas may undermine this show. More importantly, for a supposedly brilliant lawyer, Mitch seems too easily outsmarted by another big firm. Chelsea Handler is a snarky late-night talk show host who has penned a few books, including “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.”
This literary endeavor has inspired a new comedy series called “Are You There, Chelsea?,” which stars Laura Prepon in the titular role of a twenty-something cocktail waitress, who is opinionated, sexually active and hard-drinking.
Chelsea Handler appears in a recurring role as her own older sister, a born-again Christian named Sloane, married and a new mom who has little in common with her sibling. “Are You There, Chelsea?” thrives on the humor of the wild party lifestyle and one-night stands, the combination of which may work better for a late-night cable show.
Fans of Chelsea Handler may want to catch this show in the early going before she has to answer “no” to the show’s title question. Waiting in the wings for a spot on the schedule is an intriguing drama about a detective who discovers he is leading an arduous double life that defies reality.
Following a tragic car accident, detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), starring in “Awake,” finds he’s awake in two separate realities: one where his teen son died in the crash and his wife survived; and another where the outcome is switched.
To regain a semblance of normalcy, the detective returns to solving crimes in both worlds. But then memories of the accident begin to haunt him, and “Awake” will seek to untangle his dual existence. “Bent” is a romantic comedy about a womanizing, surfer dude contractor and his beautiful, no-nonsense, Type-A client, both of whom become tangled up in a remodeling job that involves more than just a lot of wood and plaster.
On the surface, Alex (Amanda Peet) and Pete (David Walton) could not be more different. Alex hires Pete to do remodeling work that looks to never end with ongoing change orders. Though Alex is outwardly hostile to Pete, it’s painfully obvious that there is inevitable romance brewing. Contrary to its name, “Bent” is on the straight path to traditional sitcom fate.
“Project Runway” has made its mark on the Lifetime Channel, but NBC wants to channel the same type of designer reality competition in “Fashion Star.” Maybe the selling point is that “Fashion Star” stars Elle Macpherson as the host, along with celebrity mentors Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos.
“Fashion Star” also ups the ante with one designer taking a prize of $6 million in orders for collections in Macy’s, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue stores.Let’s see how things go for NBC, but Chairman Greenblatt may want to remind the corporate brass that successful TV programming is indeed a “crapshoot.”
FOX TV MAY BE SITTING ON A HOT HAND FOR THE FALL
A Special Article by Tim Riley
When speaking to the assembled TV critics for the launch of the upcoming fall season, Kevin Reilly, president of FOX Entertainment, proclaimed that his network is “sitting on a hot hand this year.” This might have something to do with the ongoing popularity of “Glee,” the return of Simon Cowell, and the epic family adventure from executive producer Steven Spielberg. At the TV press tour conference, it also appeared like the half questions involved “Glee” and the comings and goings of its cast members and potential guest stars.
To tell the truth, I don’t know what the fuss is all about. I figure “Glee” is a show for teen girls, but I could be way off the mark. FOX has let me down with its cancellation of shows that I started to watch regularly. The wacky buddy cop team on “The Good Guys” is no more. My fascination with the Windy City pulled me into the police procedural that was “The Chicago Code.” So much for that!
Even Christian Slater was intriguing in his comedy role of running an offbeat security team in “Breaking In.” On this one, at least, Kevin Reilly gave the faintest glimmer of hope the network would “look at” the series when they revisit their “comedy block” next year. Those are his words in quote marks; I may hold him to them at the next press tour. Meanwhile, I will content myself with the knowledge that FOX has plenty of playoff baseball on its fall schedule, proudly taking on the ALCS series in hopes of a Yankees-Red Sox showdown that would be a sure-fire ratings winner.
I could tell you I am looking forward to the reteaming of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul on the musical competition series “The X Factor,” but that looks like a match made in hell. Of course, the friction between these two judges carries over from “American Idol,” and that alone may be the reason “The X Factor” will be a hit.
The other two judges are unknown to me, but the quartet of talent arbiters will get personally involved in the singing contests as each one individually will be mentoring contestants along the way. Though Simon Cowell has an ego the size of an entire studio, the big player, in budget and scope, on the schedule is a family adventure 85 million years in the making.
“Terra Nova” follows an ordinary family on an incredible journey back in time to prehistoric Earth as participants in a daring experiment to save the human race. Our time travelers start off in the year 2149, when the world is dying after being overdeveloped and overcrowded. But where they are headed may not be utopia.
The series centers on the Shannon family as they join a pilgrimage to resettle humanity in the past and to snare a second chance to rebuild civilization.On first impression, it appears that “Terra Nova” may have a lot in common with “Lost.” For one thing, the beautiful tropical environment will be teeming with danger.
The menace in “Terra Nova” extends beyond man-eating dinosaurs; a splinter colony of renegades is vehemently opposed to the leader in charge of the settlers that include the Shannon family. I don’t think I am going out on limb to say that “Terra Nova,” with its Spielberg pedigree and huge budget, will draw a big following.
The rest of the new shows on the schedule are sitcoms, one of them an animated series that will join the Sunday night lineup of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”
“Allen Gregory” is the story of one of the most pretentious 7-year-olds of our time.
When he looks in the mirror, Allen Gregory De Longpre (voiced by Jonah Hill) doesn’t see a child. The precocious kid claims to have composed operas and written novels while homeschooled, but his biggest challenge will be to attend elementary school with children his own age.
His journey will be a struggle, not only with the other kids, but with the faculty as well. It’s an all-out rivalry with his rigid second grade teacher (Leslie Mann). Zooey Deschanel has already established herself in the movies as the adorable, offbeat young woman du jour. She brings the same sensibility to the comedy “New Girl.” After a bad breakup, Zooey’s Jess Day moves into a loft with three single guys. Of her three new male roommates, Nick (Jake Johnson) is the most grounded.
Max Greenfield’s Nick is a hustling young professional who fancies himself a modern-day Casanova. The third roommate, Winston (Lamorne Morris) is an intensely competitive athlete who knows he’ll never go pro. The roomies are a dysfunctional family, and even more so when Jess’ childhood friend, Cece (Hannah Simone), a deadpan, cynical model, joins the group.
The series least likely to win the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” if such an award is even given for TV shows, is “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” This series is about two best friends who are single moms struggling to raise their difficult and over-privileged teenage daughters. Annie (Jaime Pressley) and Nikki (Katie Finneran) are former high school outcasts whose pasts inform their current parenting styles.
Raised in a strict household, Annie allows her daughter Sophie (Kristi Lauren) to do whatever she wants. Once an unpopular, overweight social pariah, Nikki has reinvented herself as a pretty Southern belle whose top priority is providing her daughter MacKenzie (Aisha Dee) with the childhood she never had.
For all its pretension to unconventionality, “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” looks like another standard, predictable sitcom. The most intriguing show on FOX’s schedule is a midseason series from “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams. Shrouded in the mystery of its penal colony history, “Alcatraz” will be the show to watch.
CBS TV NO LONGER WORRIES ABOUT A CHARLIE SHEEN MELTDOWN
A Special Article by Tim Riley
A press conference with a network executive is usually about as insightful as one with a politician bloviating on the issues of the day. Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, strikes the right notes without really saying very much at all. She might be ready for primetime on the political stage.
When speaking to the biannual gathering of the nation’s TV critics, Tassler also found an audience that doesn’t always ask the tough follow-up questions. The only time that Tassler was evenly remotely pressed on an issue was under questioning about whether Charlie Sheen’s character is leaving “Two and a Half Men” in a pine box.
On top of that, strong interest was expressed by the assembled scribes in wanting to know more about Aston Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen, even though his character is unrelated to the “One and a Half Men” remaining. Critics appeared to be more interested in having the opportunity to ask questions of Kutcher rather than delving into the details of new season shows.
Explaining Kutcher’s absence from the CBS press tour, Tassler said the new star of “Two and a Half Men” was unavailable because the show is “in production” and there’s a “tremendous amount of energy and focus and attention.” The problem, of course, is that every new show is already in production; otherwise we wouldn’t have an upcoming fall TV season.CBS, constantly reminding us that it is the most-watched network, will introduce five new shows this fall, three dramas and two sitcoms. In case you didn’t notice, “Mad Love” and “The Defenders” are among the goners.
Inspired by a serious-minded book of the same name, “How to Be a Gentleman” is a comedy about the unlikely friendship between a traditional, refined writer and an unrefined personal trainer. David Hornsby plays an etiquette columnist whose devotion to ideals from a more civilized time has lead to a life detached from modern society. His old friend from the past, Kevin Dillon’s reformed “bad boy” has inherited a fitness center, but can still be rude, loud and sloppy.
When Hornsby’s editor (Dave Foley) tells him to put a modern, sexy twist on his column or be fired, he hires Dillon as a life coach in hopes of learning to be less “gentle man” and more “real man.” Though it may be a case of typecasting, Kevin Dillon’s character seems to have a lot in common with his role of Drama in the soon-to-be-ending HBO series “Entourage.”
The second sitcom is “2 Broke Girls,” about two young women waitressing at a greasy spoon diner who strike up an unlikely friendship in a quest to launch their own cupcake shop. Kat Dennings is the sassy, streetwise Max Black who works two jobs just to get by. Beth Behrs is the sophisticated Caroline Channing, an uptown trust fund princess who’s run out of cash due to a fiscal calamity.
Saving their tips for start-up money, the two girls must cope with an overly flirtatious Russian cook and the 75-year-old hipster cashier.I swear that I could easily confuse “2 Broke Girls” with another network’s sitcom about two girls coping as roommates in “Apartment 23,” if not for the fact that the latter show is a mid-season replacement for ABC TV.
Of the trio of new dramas, the best one to watch is “Person of Interest,” a crime thriller about the use of surveillance techniques that taps into the modern zeitgeist. Jim Caviezel stars as a presumed dead former CIA agent who teams up with a mysterious billionaire to prevent violent crimes by using their own brand of vigilante justice. Caviezel’s special training in covert operations appeals to Michael Emerson’s software genius who invented a program that uses pattern recognition to identify people about to be involved in violent crimes.
Just think if we had this type of program in place at every airport. That could put an end to the horror stories about TSA agents groping old ladies and young children. As usual, I digress. “Person of Interest” is interesting because Caviezel and Emerson work outside the law to unravel the mystery of the person of interest and stop the crime before it happens. “Unforgettable” is a crime drama that taps into the exceptional talents of an enigmatic former police detective with a rare condition of a flawless memory for every single detail of every single day.
Poppy Montgomery’s Carrie Wells does not forget anything, except for the details that would help solve her sister’s long-ago murder. Naturally, she is haunted by this traumatic childhood tragedy. Carrie is unexpectedly reunited with her ex-boyfriend and partner, NYPD Detective Al Burns (Dylan Walsh), when she consults on a homicide case. Being back on the job after a break feels surprisingly right for Carrie, though not at first.
Despite her conflicted feelings for Al, she decides that joining the homicide unit may even lead to solving the crime against her sister. All she needs to do is remember.Rounding out the slate of dramas is “Gifted Man,” the story of a brilliant, charismatic surgeon whose life changes forever when his deceased ex-wife begins teaching him the meaning of live from the “hereafter.”
By now you must be getting the sense that CBS has gone all in for new dramas with elements of the supernatural, paranormal, bizarre and mystical. Patrick Wilson stars as the exceptional doctor Michael Holt who lives a materialistic life of luxury thanks to his work-obsessed career and powerful and wealthy patients. The good doctor is, of course, on a collision course between his privileged lifestyle and the lingering ideals of providing service to the less fortunate.
Tugging at his conscience is the mysterious appearance of his ex-wife Anna (Jennifer Ehle), an idealistic free-clinic doctor and the true love of his life. It probably comes as no surprise that “Gifted Man” finds Dr. Holt pulled into carrying on his wife’s mission of keeping the free-clinic up and running.
ABC CLAIMS TO BE TV NETWORK FOR EMPOWERED WOMEN THIS FALL
A Special Article by Tim Riley
One of the jobs for the top executive at a broadcast TV network is to set his company’s tone and philosophy for capturing the elusive viewing audience. Speaking to the gathering of TV critics for the summer press tour, Paul Lee, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, claimed that “empowered women is (sic) definitely a theme of the network.” Lee was answering a question from a critic about the ABC TV network having more dramas with women characters than any other network.
Undeniably, the fall schedule has several female-driven new dramas like “Revenge,” and “Charlie’s Angels.” Never mind the debatable sexist element to “Pan Am.” Critics have been falling all over themselves about “Pan Am,” drawing analogies to NBC’s “The Playboy Club,” and most of all to AMC’s “Mad Men.”The inevitable question is about the sudden interest in shows with the early 1960s storylines. We know that “Mad Men,” the gold standard for drama in this era, draws the kind of numbers that would sink a show on a network. To his credit, Lee said he is willing to take “some risks in broadcast” and that he’s been in the business “long enough to know that you stumble as much as you succeed.”
There may not be many among us who remember that air travel once represented the height of luxury and Pan Am was the biggest name in the business. “Pan Am” recaptures some of the glory and the excitement of the emerging Jet Age, when people showed up for a flight wearing business suits and dresses. ABC describes the show as one where the “stewardesses are the most desirable women in the world.” Boy, that’s no longer true. The last time I recall attractive flight attendants was when the ones working for now-defunct PSA wore brightly-colored hotpants.
Anyway, I digress. The stewardesses on “Pan Am” are not just good looking but also refined, educated and cultured, resulting in a combination of obligatory qualities for international travel. A rebellious bohemian, Maggie (Christina Ricci) turns into a buttoned-up professional for work so she can see the world. Kelli Garner’s adventurous Kate is joined by her beauty queen younger sister, Laura (Margot Robbie), a runaway bride, who recently fled a life of domestic boredom to take to the skies. “Pan Am” involves its share of sexy entanglements, particularly for hot-shot pilot Dean (Mike Vogel). An espionage element is also tossed into the mix when one of the stewardesses carries out assignments for the government.
For reasons I am unable to fathom, “Charlie’s Angels” is being revived and updated to a modern setting in Miami, which seems like a good place to put three hot women. You already know the set-up. This time around the angels include Rachael Taylor’s Abby, a Park Avenue princess who became a world-class thief. Annie Ilonzeh’s Kate is a Miami cop who fell from grace, losing both her career and her fiancé. Rounding out the trio is Minka Kelly’s Eve, a street racer with a mysterious past.
It is possible that the pretty women of “Charlie’s Angels” are just as much “empowered women” as those working as Bunnies in “The Playboy Club.” But I could be wrong. One of the more promising new dramas is “Revenge,” a conclusion reached after watching the pilot and immediately hankering to know more about the characters. Emily Van Camp’s
Emily Thorne arrives in the swanky, ultra-rich Hamptons and starts to make new friends, while blending into the town. But something is a little odd about a young girl living in a wealthy town all on her own, and the truth is that Emily isn’t exactly new to the community.
In fact, this was once her old neighborhood, until something bad happened that ruined her family and their reputation.
Disguising her true identity, Emily is back and she’s returned to right some of the wrongs with vengeance. The title of “Revenge” says it all. The last new drama is “Once Upon a Time,” dreamed up by the producers of “Lost” to create a bold new imaging of the world, where fairy tales and the modern-day are about to collide. Jennifer Morrison is a bail bonds collector who ends up in an alternate world trying to help her estranged son. To be honest, the whole fantasy business was lost on me.
ABC also has several new comedies, the most hopeful of which, at least to me, was the one bringing Tim Allen back to television. In “Last Man Standing,” Tim Allen is literally that, at least in a household full of women. As the marketing director for an outdoor sporting goods store, Allen does not cope well with the demands of his wife (Nancy Travis) and three daughters ranging in age from 14 to 22.
Tim Allen’s deadpan humor shines once again as he battles a household of agitated women while also fending off trouble at work. “Suburgatory,” the cleverest title for a new comedy, also shows promise because Jane Levy’s 16-year old Tessa is a precocious city girl moved by her single father (Jeremy Sisto) to a house in the suburbs. Tessa misses the chaos of New York and is horrified by the over-manicured lawns and the neighborhood moms with the big-hair and obvious boob-jobs.
The third and last new comedy series is “Man Up!,” in which three modern men try to get in touch with their inner tough guys and redefine what it means to be a “real man.” Haven’t men suffered enough in other comedies where they bond with other men, trying to figure out where they fit in? “Man Up!” may not provide the answers, because my guess is that it may be one of the first casualties in the war that is called the “ratings game.” Again, I could be wrong.
THE SPIRIT OF “MAD MEN” MAY LIFT NBC TV NETWORK THIS FALL
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Mired in last place among the major television networks, NBC is so eager to get out of its slump that, come next month, it rolls the dice with a primetime soap opera inspired by Hugh Hefner’s Chicago nightclub venture of the early 1960s. You’ve probably already heard about “The Playboy Club,” a controversial entry in the fall programming sweepstakes that trades on a renowned sexy brand.
The NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City refuses to air the new series. And it probably won’t get much traction in the Amish country of western Pennsylvania Gloria Steinem and Gloria Allred are not expected viewers for “The Playboy Club,” though the feminist writer Steinem once went undercover as a Bunny for an expose.
Out of prurient interest and a measure of curiosity, adult men may tune in to watch, but are likely to slip away once they realize the drama should be titled “Desperate Bunnies.” Like the new drama “Pan Am” on ABC, “The Playboy Club” hopes to cash in on the popularity of “Mad Men,” if only because of the swinging early Sixties vibe. The NBC show even has a main character that looks vaguely like Don Draper.
This is the time of the year for the summer edition of the biannual TV critics press tour, where lowly scribes get the lowdown on the new fall season. Unlike last January, this time around NBC trotted out its newest Chairman of Entertainment, Bob Greenblatt, who told the assembled critics that he’s “very excited and bullish” about the fall season.
What else can you expect him to say?
A network executive is like a politician trying to reassure doubtful constituents that he can deliver on a wide range of goals difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. But then, for the sake of having something decent to watch on a dateless Friday night, you hope that Mr. Greenblatt’s optimism is well-founded.
During the question and answer period, of course, critics asked about “The Playboy Club” and whether the network was trying to tap into the “Mad Men” craze, even though in reality the hit cable show doesn’t draw the kind of big audience a network needs.
Greenblatt described “The Playboy Club” as a “much more energized soap opera,” a genre that works well on network TV. Additionally, he claimed this show would not “feel like ‘Mad Men’ when you ultimately see it.” Since Hugh Hefner is not going to send me a club membership any time soon, let’s focus on to the rest of the fall schedule, which includes two additional new dramas and three new comedies.
Moving on to the next drama, “Grimm” is inspired by the classic Grimm Fairy Tales, a Friday night entry for shut-ins and members of the lonely hearts club. Portland homicide Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) discovers he is descended from an elite line of criminal profilers known as “Grimms,” charged with keeping balance between humanity and the mythological creatures of the world.
As he tries to hide the dangers of his newfound calling from his fiancée (Bitsie Tulloch) and his partner (Russell Hornsby), Detective Burkhardt becomes ever more entrenched in the ancient rivalries and alliances of the Grimm world. “Prime Suspect” is a fitting title for a crime drama that takes a probing look inside a New York City homicide department.
The series stars Maria Bello as tough-as-nails NYPD homicide Detective Jane Timoney, an outsider who has just transferred to a new squad where her new colleagues already dislike her.
Though confident and focused, Jane is also rude, abrupt and occasionally reckless. She has her vices and rumors of a questionable past follow her everywhere. At the end of the day, Jane is an instinctively brilliant cop who can’t be distracted from the only important thing: the prime suspect.
In the Thursday night comedy rotation, NBC adds “Whitney,” a look at modern love in a comedy series about Whitney (Whitney Cummings) and Alex (Chris D’Elia), a happily unmarried couple.
Together for three years, the duo is no rush to get hitched, but attending one too many weddings and listening to their opinionated friends causes the couple to grapple with relationship issues. NBC also seems to be carving out a comedy block on Wednesday nights, adding to two new comedies to precede “Harry’s Law.” “Up All Night,” which is up first, has an impressive creative team with links to “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Saturday Night Live.”Christina Applegate takes another turn at comedy in the role of Reagan Brinkley, a loving wife, successful career woman, life of the party and, most recently, mom.
Determined not to compromise her career or cool reputation to the clichés of motherhood, Reagan adjusts to life with a baby and returns to work with the support of her stay-at-home husband, Chris (Will Arnett). Dealing with sleep deprivation may be the reason for the show’s title, but Reagan has bigger problems in handling the endless needs of her ambitious boss (Maya Rudolph).
The second mid-week comedy show is “Free Agents,” a romantic comedy that explores the trials and tribulations of finding love and companionship the second time around. Hank Azaria’s Alex is newly divorced, missing his kids and trying to keep himself together. His co-worker Helen (Kathryn Hahn) thinks she has it together but drinks too much in order to cope with her fiance’s untimely death.
When these two overworked public relations executives share an ill-fated night of passion, they are forced to cope with the awkward aftermath. Meanwhile, NBC Chairman Greenblatt must be hoping that his passion for his fall lineup is not ill-fated.
CBS TV STILL RIDING HIGH ON ITS PROGRAMMING SUCCESS
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The risk of putting something in writing is that anyone can look back at it later and point out the error of the author’s ways. Only last summer, while writing about the CBS television network’s upcoming fall programming, I was rather dismissive of the attempt to reboot the classic series “Hawaii Five-O.” Alex O’Loughlin is no Jack Lord when it comes to playing the part of no-nonsense Steve McGarrett, leader of an elite unit of the Hawaii state police. It turns out I was wrong about the show, but right about the McGarrett role, only because O’Loughlin is nothing like Jack Lord in style or spirit. And that’s a good thing, because the retooled “Hawaii Five-O” is a lot of fun, particularly because Scott Caan’s flippant Danny Williams is a great foil for the blunt McGarrett.
This little bit of introspection about my misguided opinion on “Hawaii Five-O” came to mind while listening to CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler talking to the gathering of TV critics for the winter press tour. By all means, the CBS network is still riding high in the ratings, and Tassler claimed her network has the “five most watched new shows,” but did not bother to name them.
Since I track TV ratings as carefully as my cholesterol levels (which is, to say, not at all), I have no idea where the Aloha State crime show rates, or even where great new shows like “Blue Bloods” or “The Defenders” happen to stand. All that matters is that CBS scores well in most demographics.
So what does the “Eye” network do for an encore? In a move that does not set it apart from its competitors, CBS sets its sights on a new romantic comedy series entitled “Mad Love,” appropriately scheduled to air the first episode on Valentine’s Day. In fact, romantic sitcoms on CBS, as of late, are almost as rare as good taste and intelligent people on “Jersey Shore.” But, at least, “Mad Love” has interesting actors who may make a go of this fairly conventional comedy, which would seem more likely to belong on NBC.
Jason Biggs, a hopeless romantic named Ben, is trying to build a relationship with pretty, smart Kate (Sarah Chalke). Meanwhile, Tyler Labine’s Larry, the slovenly best friend of Ben, is the unromantic type who finds himself in a strange, or perhaps strained, relationship with Judy Greer’s Connie, Kate’s roommate. Connie finds Larry aggravating, which is understandable if you recall Tyler Labine from his role of deadbeat father figure in “Sons of Tucson.” Given that Larry and Connie are incompatible, “Mad Love” works on the comedic assumption that opposites attract. Time will tell if this works for CBS.
An upcoming series that is more fitting in the CBS orbit is “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” which, though similar in nature, is not to be confused with “Criminal Minds.” Except it’s more akin to one of the multiple variations of “CSI” than a traditional spinoff. “Criminal Minds” is about an elite team of FBI profilers who analyze the country’s most twisted minds.
The new show stars Forest Whitaker heading up an elite team of FBI agents (so far, it sounds the same) within the Behavioral Analysis Unit that uses unconventional methods of investigation and aggressive tactics to capture the nation’s most nefarious criminals.
Whitaker’s special agent Sam Cooper, a physically fierce natural leader, operates outside the box, unafraid to risk his career while standing by his convictions. Striving to avoid the political bureaucracy, Cooper has handpicked an eclectic group of profilers to work outside the confines of Quantico.
Janeane Garofalo’s Beth Griffith, strong-willed and outspoken, joins the team from the FBI Threat Assessment Task Force. The team includes a former British Special Forces soldier, a highly-skilled marksman, and a former convict with a street-smart edge and a calm, Zen-like presence. “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior”, which looks like it will be a lot more physical and violent than its namesake, premieres two nights after Valentine’s Day.
Coming later in the spring, the aptly named “Chaos” is a comedic drama about a group of rogue CIA spies in the Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services (CHAOS), not to be confused with KAOS from “Get Smart.” Much like “Mad Love,” this show looks like it belongs on another network. This is why one critic asked show creator Tom Spezialy why the show was on CBS when it appeared to be more appropriate to FOX, ABC or even FX. His reply was that the show is “intended to be relentless fun, so I would assume if you tune into CBS, you’re looking for fun too.”
Freddy Rodriguez stars as Rick Martinez, a rookie agent who finds that his spy job is eliminated on his first day at the agency. The calculating mastermind and head of CHAOS, CIA Deputy Director H.J. Higgins (Kurtwood Smith), recognizes Rick’s unique skill set and places him as an unwitting mole inside the department.
Rick ends up working with some bizarre characters, such as the former British Secret Service agent who was deported from the United Kingdom. Eric Close’s Michael Dorset, who runs the team, is a tactical genius motivated by pure paranoia. Tim Blake Nelson’s Casey Malick, the wackiest of the bunch, has an understated demeanor and the odd ability to transform into a “human weapon,” even though he sometimes falters at an inopportune time.
The CHAOS team combats threats to national security amidst bureaucratic gridlock, rampant incompetence and political infighting. In the first episode, which doesn’t premiere until April 1st, the team tackles a risky assignment somewhere in a Middle East desert, one fraught with danger and comedic situations. It will be interesting to see if “Chaos” thrives on the CBS schedule. Riding high in the ratings affords a network the opportunity to take a few gambles.
MAJOR MERGER OVERSHADOWS NBC TV NETWORK’S WINTER ROLLOUT
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The entertainment world (or at least that portion of interest to TV writers), as it relates to the fortunes of the NBC TV network, has been greatly affected during the month of January by major events. First of all, there was the endurance run of the biannual TV critics press tour, where lowly scribes get the lowdown on upcoming programs from network and cable brass.
On the larger stage, TV writers and the general public have seen the nation’s largest cable operator, Comcast, moving forward with acquiring a majority stake in the broadcasting company NBC Universal. Though the Comcast-NBC merger has now been approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, the matter was still pending when TV critics had their day with the NBC TV network earlier in January.
For the first time in memory, the NBC Universal press tour day did not include a session with the network’s top executives. Last summer, we had the give-and-take conversation with Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment.
This month, you were lucky to talk to one of the ubiquitous NBC pages who wear blazers sporting at least multiple NBC lapel pins – kind of like that guy on the “30 Rock” show. I guess no one wanted to talk about the then-pending final approval of the Comcast-NBC merger. Or maybe they just wanted to avoid unpleasant chatter about former president and CEO of NBC Universal, Jeff Zucker, who was probably one of the least popular TV executives of all time and was unceremoniously dumped last fall.
Another reason not to talk to executives is that apparently all of the NBC midseason shows have been launched. First, there’s “The Cape,” which should excite fanboys of the superhero genre in a big way. The show has a unique combination of campy, cheesy fun and dark superhero drama. In the premiere episode of “The Cape,” Vince Faraday (David Lyons) is a cop framed for crimes he did not commit, forcing him to team up with a group of carnival misfits to take a new identity, fight crime and win his family back.
Fueled by a desire to reunite with his wife Dana (Jennifer Ferrin) and son Trip (Ryan Wynott), Faraday becomes “The Cape” – his son’s favorite comic book superhero – taking the law into his own hands and battling the criminal forces that have overtaken the fictional Palm City. Evil billionaire Peter Fleming (James Frain) is The Cape’s nemesis, who moonlights at a twisted killer named Chess. Political intrigue also comes into the picture when Fleming’s corporation seeks to privatize Palm City’s prisons.
Now that “Boston Legal” had ended its run, writer and producer David E. Kelley returns with “Harry’s Law,” a show that is billed as a legal “dramedy,” a term that implies the combination of drama and comedy. From what I can tell, this new series, starring the talented Kathy Bates, is more unintentionally ludicrous than it is either a comedy or drama. The premise is that Harriet “Harry” Korn (Bates) is a curmudgeonly ex-patent lawyer abruptly fired from her blue-chip law firm, forcing her to search for a fresh start.
This leads her to team up with a young legal hotshot (Nate Corddry) that she meets in a car accident and a ditzy assistant (Brittany Snow). They set up shop in a former shoe store located in a ghetto neighborhood of Cincinnati. It’s a bit lame that they are selling shoes and providing legal services in the same storefront.
One little known fact is that David E. Kelley wrote the part of Harry for a cantankerous grumpy old man. To her credit, Kathy Bates does a good job of turning the grouchy Harry into a crabby Harriet.
“Perfect Couples” is a romantic comedy that is new only in the sense that it stars a bunch of people who did not appear in “Friends.” Otherwise, the story about three flawed couples sounds an awful lot like “Traffic Light,” which will get its start in early February on the FOX network. At least in the FOX series, one of the three guys has trouble maintaining a relationship any longer than three weeks.
“Perfect Couples” involves three couples struggling through various stages of commitment, whether ideal or not. Olivia Munn’s Leigh is a self-appointed relationship guru who makes it her duty to mold her jock husband Rex (Hayes MacArthur) and the other couples into her ideal of marriage. For his part, Rex is a reformed party guy channeling his athletic energy into a competitive drive to be the ideal mate.
Kyle Bornheimer’s Dave and his wife Julia (Christine Woods) appear to be the fun couple worth watching. The good news for NBC Universal, or should I say Comcast-NBC Universal, is that this media conglomerate also has cable outfits Syfy, USA, Oxygen and Bravo in its orbit.
Some of the best series, to my mind, are on USA. “White Collar,” recently returned for its second season on USA, is a fun crime caper show starring the charismatic Matt Bomer as an ex-con who now assists the FBI. USA has also just launched “Fairly Legal,” a legal drama that works off the premise that San Francisco mediator Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi), formerly an attorney, returns to the practice of law upon the sudden death of her father, whose law firm is now being run by the evil stepmother (Virginia Williams).
The tension is palpable as Kate must now report her deceased father’s spouse, a person relatively the same age. It will be interesting to see how Comcast-NBC rolls out its fall programming during this summer’s press tour. I am comforted by the fact that Jeff Zucker won’t be one of the network executives on a panel discussion.
FOX TV NETWORK ROLLS WITH BIG DRAWS OF “GLEE” AND “IDOL”
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Last summer, when the nation’s TV critics gathered for their biannual press tour, the major conversation was about the departure of Simon Cowell from “American Idol” and how would the FOX television network manage to keep its signature show vital, entertaining and compelling. The tenth season of “American Idol” has just launched, with new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.
From a talent perspective, Aerosmith frontman Tyler and notable singer Lopez are a good fit for a show that seeks out new musical stars. However, I still can’t figure out why Ryan Seacrest is the host. His production company is responsible for foisting “Keeping up with the Kardashians” on us, and this alone should lead to his permanent ban from any spot on television.
At the January press tour, FOX’s President of Entertainment, Kevin Reilly, had little to say about his network’s most popular shows, “American Idol” or “Glee,” for that matter. Well, Peter Rice, FOX’s Chairman of Entertainment, responded to a question about whether Jennifer Lopez was picked to be an “Idol” judge because of her international following that would help tap into the Hispanic market. After saying “no,” he added that the network thought “Jennifer would be fantastic.”
To elaborate a bit more, Rice observed that because “Idol” is a music show in which “there’s real chemistry there and great music credibility” between Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. Oddly enough, Rice and Reilly answered a lot more questions, or so it seemed, about the dismal failure of “Lone Star,” which everyone except a handful of TV critics has already forgotten.
Starting off the midseason for the FOX schedule is “Bob’s Burgers,” an animated series that fits within the network’s realm of such shows as “The Simpsons” and the now-departed “King of the Hill.” As the title implies, the comedy series is about Bob, his family and the eponymous burger joint, one which has problems with the Health Department and the mishaps that come from running afoul of child labor laws.
Bob is voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, whose distinctive speech is easily recognized for giving voice to the titular character in “Archer,” an animated series on the FX network. The role of Bob’s wife is voiced by John Roberts – yes, you’re reading that correctly, a man is impersonating the lead female character.
FOX’s next new comedy to launch in early February is “Traffic Light,” a show that has nothing to do with travel other than the fact that the characters like to discuss their relationships and romances while driving around town.
The series centers on three longtime buddies – Mike (David Denman), Adam (Nelson Franklin), and Ethan (Kris Marshall) – and their attempts to navigate the demands of their relationships. A married lawyer devoted to his wife and young son, Mike desperately carves out space for himself, usually hiding out in his car so he can talk to his buddies.
Adam is coping with his girlfriend having just moved in. The perpetual bachelor, Ethan loves women, but never more than three weeks at a time. “Traffic Light” treads no new ground, because we’ve seen it in “Friends” and countless other sitcoms about couples.
Shawn Ryan, creator of “The Shield,” is the creative force behind “The Chicago Code,” a compelling new police drama that also begins in early February.
Shot entirely in the Windy City, this show follows powerful and respected cops as they traverse the city’s underbelly to fight crime and expose corruption within Chicago’s notorious political machine. The fast-paced series centers on Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke), a local legend and veteran of the police force, who has tremendous influence due to his connections with Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), his ex-partner and the city’s first female superintendent.
The pair will stop at nothing to bring down their powerful adversaries, including Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo), a politician who rules his ward with a velvet glove. Jarek works the streets to not only clean up the corrupt system but to also avenge his brother’s murder. “The Chicago Code” looks very promising, and if it were airing on cable, it would be way more intense.
More than anything, I am looking forward to the off-beat workplace comedy, “Breaking In,” starring Christian Slater, of all people, as the head of a high-tech security firm. Unfortunately, we have to wait until early April for the series to begin. Slater’s company takes extreme and often questionable methods to sell its protection services.
Christian Slater’s Oz is a man of mystery and master of manipulation. In the series’ pilot, Oz takes unorthodox measures to hire his newest recruit, Cameron (Bret Harrison), a slacker at the local university who uses his computer skills to provide students with high marks in order to profit handsomely. Other members of the odd squad include Melanie (Odette Yustman) and Cash (Alphonso McAuley). “Breaking In” has the promise of being a thoroughly wacky and out of the ordinary comedy.
Later this spring, FOX will take the unusual measure of airing a two-hour series preview of a show that won’t even premiere until next fall. “Terra Nova” follows an ordinary family on an incredible journey back in time to prehistoric Earth as a small part of a daring experiment to save the human race.
The series centers on the Shannon family as they join the Tenth Pilgrimage of setters to Terra Nova. Steven Spielberg is one of a dozen Executive Producers for this adventure series, and his involvement alone might just sell the program. Stephanie, Audrina, Kristin and Lo The Hills (Season 6) | Cast
THE MTV NETWORKS PUSHING MORE FOR LAUGHS THAN MUSIC
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Inevitably, there’s a lot more to the MTV Networks than music videos and VH1 programming, when you consider that cable channels CMT, Spike, Comedy Central and TV Land are in the orbit of this giant cable empire. Not so long ago, TV Land was a repository for vintage TV series that stirred nostalgic memories, a place to showcase the golden age of television.
TV Land reverently presented the reruns of classic shows like “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Fortunately, TV Land is still the place to check out the wonderful Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeannie,” or you can find more recent classics like “Everybody Loves Raymond.” At the gathering of the nation’s TV critics on the winter press tour, Larry W. Jones, president of TV Land, confirmed that his channel is going deeper into the original sitcom business because the success of “Hot in Cleveland” resulted in 2010 being the “highest-rated year in primetime since 2007 with our target audience of adults 25-54.”
In case you missed it last year, “Hot in Cleveland,” starring the enduring and legendary Betty White, along with Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick, turned into a big hit. “Hot in Cleveland” resolves around three fabulous best friends from Los Angeles – Bertinelli’s novelist Melanie Moretti, Leeves’ eye makeup artist Joy Scroggs and Malick’s former soap star Victoria Chase – who find their lives changed forever when circumstances have them relocated to Ohio’s big city. They rent a house that happens to come with White’s very opinionated caretaker Elka.
With Betty White still going strong at age 89, “Hot in Cleveland” returns on January 19th for a second season, which picks up where season one left off with the three friends trying desperately to free Elka from jail, because she was arrested after a stash of valuable jewels – fenced by her mob-employed deceased husband – was found in her storm cellar.
TV Land’s commitment to new sitcoms gets off to a fast start when “Retired at 35” also premieres on January 19th, following “Hot in Cleveland” on the same night.
“Retired at 35” stars veteran actors George Segal and Jessica Walter as retired couple Alan and Elaine Robbins living in Florida. The carefree retired lifestyle is soon disrupted when their grown son David (Johnathan McClain) comes for a visit and, after one too many hectoring phone calls from his boss, decides to leave the New York City rat race and retire to Florida.
The disillusioned businessman ends moving into his parents’ condo, which in turn sets off a chain reaction of unexpected events, such as his Mom suddenly deciding to move to Portugal to take up painting. As unlikely as it may appear, David settles into the carefree retired lifestyle or, as his hedonistic Dad describes it, “college in slow-motion.” David finds that bingo night at the retirement community leads to unexpected sexual shenanigans.
CMT is well known for its music-based and reality programming.
Speaking to TV critics, Brad Johnson, Senior Vice President for Comedy Development at CMT, observed that ratings and research indicated that “family and comedy” are two important things to the channel’s viewers. Since comedies that the whole family can enjoy together are harder to find, CMT decided to fill the void with its own scripted series “Working Class,” starring Ed Asner as cranky manager Hank Greziak at a food market where Melissa Peterman’s Carli Mitchell is a co-worker.
The story of “Working Class” revolves around single mom Carli trying to give her kids a better life by moving them into an upscale suburb. The transition to the good life is harder than she thought. Her only “career” prospect is a glorified deli job at the local grocery store, and the man she falls for not only already has a girlfriend, but he’s also her boss, Rob Parker (Patrick Fabian). With her ladies-man brother Nick (Steve Kazee) to help her out when he’s not acting like a kid himself, Carli faces the comic challenges of parenting, dating and making friends in her new community by doing more with less.
Of all the channels in the MTV galaxy, Comedy Central is the most predictable place for new comedy. Sports fans addicted to ESPN programming are going to love the absurdity of “Onion SportsDome,” a 30-minute rundown of the silliest in sports news, analysis, scores, highlights, rumor-mongering and petty personal attacks. Much like “The Onion” newspaper mastered the satirical skewering of culture and politics, among other things, “Onion SportsDome” turns the conventions of modern sports coverage on its head, mocking the overblown style of ESPN’s reverential coverage.
“Onion SportsDome” is co-anchored Mark Shepard (Matt Oberg) and Alex Reiser (Matt Walton), both of whom master the earnest reporting of the most mundane or inane sporting events. I think ESPN’s “SportsCenter” is funny enough as it is when Chris Berman gets all lathered up in his overhyped and frenzied coverage of all things sports, but you can count on “Onion SportsDome” to go to the extremes, and that all alone makes it worth watching to sports fans of all stripes.
TELEVISION UPDATE of 2011
We already have a fake news show with “The Daily Show,” where the bogus sincerity of Jon Stewart apparently fools a segment of the TV viewing audience. One may wonder then why the “Onion News Network” is the IFC Channel’s answer to bringing its own perverted brand of hard-hitting, merciless journalism to the television-watching masses.
“Onion News Network” will feature a rotating lineup of reporters and commentators, including Washington correspondent Jane Carmichael who has not left the White House lawn in four years and senior reporter Andrea Bennett, who has made more senators cry than any other journalist.
Some of the regular programs include angry political commentator Joad Cressbeckler opining on everything from returning to the gold standard to skinning a raccoon and former prosecutor Shelby Cross reporting on the latest legal cases, determining who’s guilty without the need for pesky evidence.
“Onion News Network” premieres on IFC later in January for a 30-minute glimpse into the world’s most powerful 24-hour news network.
MOVIE TRENDS ON DISPLAY AT THIS YEAR’S AMERICAN FILM MARKET
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Reflecting the state of the economy, market trends and ongoing consolidation of the film business, the annual American Film Market (AFM) gathering in Santa Monica illustrates that “less is more” is now a governing philosophy for keeping afloat the international business of buying and selling films.
In the span of eight days, 427 movies were screened for buyers, sellers and industry leaders at this year’s event. Only two years ago, AFM screened 513 movies over the same number of days. I’ll leave the math to you, but that’s definitely a lot less product on display.
As I have reported in the past, AFM is never to be confused with the glamour of the Cannes Film Festival, where an abundance of A-list stars appear at the red carpet premieres and plentiful bikini-clad beauties stroll along the beach. George Clooney was rumored to show up to pitch one of his productions, but his appearance would be the exception to the rule.
Most of the people action is concentrated in the lobby of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, consisting of a strange mix of buyers and sellers haggling over film rights while others, including aspiring actors and hangers-on, mill around to hustle pet projects only because they lack the proper credentials to roam freely through the many hospitality suites located above the lobby level.
Since watching over 400 films in 8 days is impossible to achieve, the next best thing is to get a flavor of the offerings by visiting the hotel rooms and suites where independent film companies peddle their wares. The AFM honchos reported that attendance at this year’s market increased by 6 percent while the number of sellers decreased by 7 percent.
Issuing an assessment of the market’s condition, AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf’s formal statement said the “positive feeling in the halls is a direct result of production levels that are now in balance with marketplace demand.” This gets me back to the “less is more” dictum, which accounts for marketplace stability where the number of buyers and sellers achieves a more symmetrical balance.
Notwithstanding that some films sold at AFM are quality films worthy of awards, the basic staple on display is the usual schlock cinema of B-grade horror and cheesy action, with some sex comedies thrown in for good measure.
The search for inferior horror and action usually starts with the master of the genre, Troma Pictures. The Troma gang has previously promoted such tacky classics as “A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell” and “Class of Nuke ‘Em High.” I don’t know if Troma is resting on its laurels, but sadly they had no new horror product to push. However, for no discernible reason, they handed out free samples of Troma’s Killer Condom.
To fill the horror void, New Horizons Picture Corporation stepped into the breach with its saturation campaign on behalf of two freakishly weird films. “Dinoshark,” starring Eric Balfour, stirs fears of what lurks below the ocean surface. Better still is “Sharktopus,” featuring a half-shark, half-octopus creature terrorizing vacationers on the Mexican coast.
Starring Eric Roberts, who is not surprisingly cast as the bad guy, “Sharktopus” is about the U.S. Navy commissioning a genetic engineering company led by a corrupt scientist to develop a weapon that would combat pirates on the open seas. Instead, the thing feasts on beachgoers.
David Carradine arrived at a terrible end in a hotel room in Bangkok last year, but he lives on at AFM in at least a handful of movies. He has a starring role in another New Horizons’ generic horror picture, this one titled “Dinocroc vs. Supergator,” in which two giant creatures escape from an experimental facility and terrorize tourists on the white sand beaches of a resort tropical island. Apparently, the New Horizons folks enjoy reworking the same horror theme.
Meanwhile, Fantastic Films International advertises “Eldorado” as David Carradine’s final film in which he plays the Spirit Guide to the siblings of a Blues Brothers tribute band called The Jew Brothers. Billed for its “murder, music, mayhem,” the poster art for “Eldorado” is an interesting mix of horror, western and homage to the Blues Brothers.
Dressed like Jake and Elwood Blues, the Jew Brothers stand in front of a vintage decommissioned black-and-white squad car with a hatchet planted firmly in the car’s hood. The film also stars Darryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Steve Guttenberg, Brigitte Nielsen and Jeff Fahey – all of whom are throwbacks to an earlier time but are still familiar names.
Film marketing at AFM is driven by a risk-averse environment where the combination of a recognizable cast and a saleable genre is likely to deliver major dividends.
The menacing-looking Danny Trejo, the knife-wielding assassin in “Machete,” is typecast again, carrying a big machete in “Poolboy” and also playing a revenge seeker who won’t die in “The Lazarus Papers.”
The scenario for “Poolboy” is weirdly amusing, as Kevin Sorbo, tortured by his past as a poolboy, returns after a long absence to his home in Van Nuys and discovers that only Mexicans run pool-cleaning companies. He sets off a brutal mission to reclaim his “rightful” vocation and enact revenge on Trejo for killing his wife and son.
Zombies also remain fashionable in both popular culture and at AFM. “Zombie DIEner,” which deliberately tries to milk a play on words in its title, is self-described as “Pulp Fiction” meets “Zombieland.” If only that were true, this “zombie” flick could be a hit, but my well-honed instinct tells me otherwise.
For one thing, the cast includes Josh Grote, Jorge Montalvo, Parker Quinn and Liesel Kopp – not exactly household names. Another trend has been the fascination with “cougars” (not the four-legged ones), and so “Cougar Hunting,” starring Lara Flynn Boyle and Vanessa Angel, was simply the inevitable comedy about hot older women with a taste for younger men.
I find it fascinating when a well-known and respected thespian turns up in an AFM film that’s not likely to be an artistic classic. This brings me to the great Helen Mirren, starring as the owner of Nevada’s first brothel in “Love Ranch” along with Joe Pesci, Gina Gershon and Bryan Cranston.
How she ended up in this film is just one of the many mysteries of the AFM marketplace. Sadly, I am late to the game once again in telling you about a TV program that those who enjoy foreign affairs and world events would find fascinating. But I think there is a chance to discover it in a re-run or perhaps on a DVD release.
National Geographic Channel is really stepping it up in their original programming. “Inside the State Department” is a remarkable look at the machinery of diplomacy engineered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the over 60,000 State Department staffers.
The National Geographic team followed Secretary Clinton on her visits to such hot vacation spots as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
We get an inside look at some of the briefing sessions for Clinton in preparation for meeting with world leaders. My favorite part is the tour of the “gift vault” at the Washington, D.C. headquarters, where items presented to foreign dignitaries on behalf of the president and secretary of state are stored. These items even include baseball bats personally autographed by Derek Jeter and basketball shoes signed by Shaquille O’Neal.
THE ROCKY ROAD AHEAD FOR ABC NETWORK’S FALL SCHEDULE
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The sudden departure of the head honcho of a major TV network is always good reason for speculation by industry leaders and TV critics alike. Only last January, Steve McPherson, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, was informing the gathering of the nation’s TV critics for the winter press tour that he acknowledged indirectly that success in programming comes not just from stability in a schedule, but the willingness to gamble when necessary.
At the time, he said the network was “going to continue to be ambitious,” adding “that’s where we succeed.” On the flip side, he also noted that “where we have been derivative and played it safe, I think we fail.”
When the TV critics’ summer press tour rolled around, Steve McPherson was nowhere to be found. Similar to a missive from the politburo, only days before the start of ABC’s portion of the press tour, a statement on behalf of the Disney/ABC Television Group tersely announced that McPherson submitted his resignation as president and the Company accepted.
The second sentence of a three-sentence paragraph quoted McPherson as saying “I want to thank the wonderful team of individuals who have worked with me throughout my time here and wish them nothing but the best.” This is Hollywood-speak for “I am being pushed out the door but I will say something short and sweet because I need to work in this town on some production deals.”
Naturally, ABC did not want TV critics resorting to wild conjecture about what went wrong. Kevin Brockman, communications director, quickly announced at the start of ABC’s press tour presentation that the brief statement of McPherson’s departure “still holds” and that was all the company was literally “going to say on the subject.” ABC had no interest in entertaining questions from pesky journalists. Just in case his point wasn’t clear, Brockman went on to say that ABC gave a statement and that “we really have nothing more to add.” And poof, McPherson became a nonentity assigned to the industry gulag.
Thrust into the new job as president of ABC Entertainment, Paul Lee, formerly the head of the ABC Family network, had to put a good face on his elevation to his new post, and in the process came across as composed, unruffled and knowledgeable. Saying he had only been in the job for 36 hours, Lee apologized in advance “if I don’t have all the answers to all the questions.” Lee expressed his philosophy of creating “brand-defining, network-defining, ground-breaking shows” which involve “quality storytelling” and “brand equity.” He also expressed his desire to “take some risks, make some great shows, have some surprises and still do it to a defined target audience.” Left unsaid is that Lee inherits a fall schedule heavy with new shows he did not personally arrange.
At least for now, the McPherson era lives on with several new fall shows. “Detroit 1-8-7,” fittingly enough, is a drama about the men and women of the Homicide Division in the Detroit police department.
The damaged and driven Detective Louis Fitch (Michael Imperioli) is a wily veteran who is the most respected man in the division. Fitch’s new partner, Detective Damon Washington (Jon Michael Hill), finds his first day on the job is a trial by fire. The old-timer is Sergeant Jesse Longford (James McDaniel), who struggles with his impending retirement.
The streetwise, smooth-talking narcotics undercover cop John Stone (D.J. Cotrona) is clever and quick with a smile, which comes in handy as he is partnered with the sexy Detective Ariana Sanchez (Natalie Martinez). Expect some combustible conflict and sexual tension with these two. Heading up the division in “Detroit 1-8-7” is a strong-willed single mom, Lieutenant Maureen Mason (Aisha Hinds), who struggles to balance home and work.
Michael Chiklis, who made his mark in “The Shield,” heads up an unusual family in the drama “No Ordinary Family.” Chiklis’ Jim Powell feels disconnected from his workaholic wife Stephanie (Julie Benz) and two teenage children. To encourage family bonding, Jim decides the family will join Stephanie on her business trip to South America.
When their plane crashes in the Amazon River, they survive and soon come to realize that each member of the family starts to show signs of new, unique and distinct super powers. The central premise of the show is whether their newfound abilities will finally bring them together as a family or push them further apart.
“Body of Proof” is a new medical drama which stars Dana Delany as Dr. Megan Hunt, a brilliant neurosurgeon whose career is turned upside down when a devastating car accident puts an end to her time in the operating room. Megan resumes her career as a medical examiner after botching a surgery in a serious manner.
Her medical instincts remain sharp, but she develops a reputation for graying the lines where her job ends and where the police department’s begins. Dr. Hunt’s methods are unconventional and she ruffles a lot of feathers. Jeri Ryan plays the role of her boss, Dr. Kate Murphy. “Body of Proof” may prove to be a female-centric drama.
The unique legal drama “The Whole Truth” chronicles the way a case is built from the perspective of both the defense and prosecution. Showing each side equally keeps the audience guessing. Maura Tierney stars as Kathryn Peale, the Deputy Bureau Chief in the New York State District Attorney’s office. Rob Morrow, starring as Jimmy Brogan and a friend of Kathryn’s since their days at Yale Law School, is one of New York’s rising criminal attorney stars.
These evenly matched lawyers fervently pursue their competitive streaks in the courtroom. The fact that “The Whole Truth” is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer is reason enough to expect some good things.
I haven’t quite figured out what “My Generation” is all about. It seems to be a mockumentary, in that it follows what happens to a group of high school students in Austin, Texas ten years after their graduation. The program revisits former classmates as they return home to rediscover that just because they’re not where they planned doesn’t mean they’re not right where they need to be. “My Generation” appears skewed to the younger demographic.
ABC’s only new comedy for the fall is “Better With You,” about a couple that have been dating for nine years. Jennifer Finnigan’s Maddie and Josh Cooke’s Ben know each other inside and out, a relationship marked by contentment and affection. Suddenly, Maddie’s younger sister, Mia (JoAnna Garcia), who has been dating Casey (Jake Lacy) for seven weeks, announces they are getting married and having a baby.
The news throws Maddie for a loop, but the girls’ parents, Vicky (Debra Jo Rupp) and Joel (Kurt Fuller), couldn’t be more pleased. “Better With You” explores the comedic side of three very different relationships intertwined in one family.
Hedging their bets on the fall schedule, ABC has already announced three midseason replacements shows, “Happy Endings,” “Mr. Sunshine,” and “Off the Map.”
FORTUNES OF FOX TV NETWORK MAY REST ON “IDOL” OVERHAUL
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The nation’s TV critics meet twice a year to participate in panel discussions about upcoming TV shows and special programs. Last January, the big talk during the FOX TV network portion centered around Simon Cowell’s surprise appearance before hordes of scribes to end all speculation about his future on “American Idol.” At the time, Peter Rice, Chairman of Entertainment, called Simon “irreplaceable,” before remarking that it would be “incumbent upon us to make sure the show remains vital and entertaining and compelling.” Let’s face it, with or without Cowell, FOX has a lot riding on the future of a franchise which factors mightily in the network’s competitive edge.
In the recent summer gathering of the wretched press corps, FOX Chairman Rice and Kevin Reilly, President of Entertainment, managed to open their press conference with a head-on response to the news about Ellen DeGeneres’ departure from “American Idol.” Unlike Cowell, DeGeneres did not appear on stage for a bombshell announcement; that cat was already out of the bag. Rice reported that DeGeneres “wasn’t comfortable” and didn’t feel like the show was “a good fit for her.” He said he tried to persuade her that the show “would be different in the future, but ultimately we came to an agreement that we would begin to look for new judges.”
Knowing that this revelation would be equivalent to tossing red meat into a cage full of lions, Rice observed that disclosing DeGeneres’ exit would create “another round of speculation about who would be replacing Ellen and who would be replacing Simon on the judges’ panel next year.”
Then he claimed that no one has signed a deal yet “on either side of the camera to join ‘American Idol’ next year who wasn’t on it last year.” Adding more layers to potential speculation, Rice told everyone that wildly inaccurate information is floating around, but he doesn’t want to speculate about the panel of judges for next year and won’t answer questions to that effect. Naturally, about half the questions that followed involved some variation of enticing the type of speculation the Chairman so deftly sought to avoid.
For the time being, we’ll just have to settle for breaking news to emanate from the “National Enquirer” or gossip on Twitter. So let’s move on to what is knowable about the fall schedule. FOX would love to find the next “Glee,” but that could be a tall order. Meanwhile, a provocative soap opera set against the backdrop of big Texas oil can’t quite figure if its title is one word or two. “Lone Star,” as it was billed at one panel, is found to be “Lonestar” in other printed press releases. I’ll stick with “Lone Star” because that is more fitting for Texas. In any event, the primary character is either Robert or Bob (James Wolk), depending on where he decides to spend the night.
Robert/Bob is a charismatic schemer who has meticulously constructed two lives in two different parts of the Lone Star state. In Houston, he is married to Cat (Adrienne Palicki), the daughter of Clint (Jon Voight), the wealthy patriarch of Texas oil family. More than 400 miles away in the suburban west Texas town of Midland, he plays the perfect boyfriend to sweet, naïve Lindsay (Eloise Mumford). In Midland, he’s conning local investors out of their savings. In Houston, he schemes to deplete the family business of its riches. All the while, he has to deal with his con artist father (David Keith), while keeping a suspicious brother-in-law at bay. “Lone Star” will test how Robert/Bob keeps his secret lives from unraveling.
On Tuesday nights, “Glee” will anchor the evening schedule as the lead-in for two new comedies. “Raising Hope” follows the Chance family as they find themselves adding an unexpected new member into their already terribly flawed household. At 23 years old, Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff) skims pools for a living, parties every night and still lives at home with his family, including his daffy grandmother (Cloris Leachman), his mother Virginia (Martha Plimpton) and father Burt (Garret Dillahunt). Jimmy’s life takes a drastic turn when a chance romantic encounter with Lucy (Bijou Phillips) goes awry once he discovers she is a wanted felon.
Months later, when Jimmy pays a visit to the local prison, he discovers Lucy gave birth to their baby, who he is now charged with raising. At home with his new daughter, Jimmy finds his family is less than enthused about the new addition to the household. Burt and Martha were teenaged parents who never knew anything about raising a child and have no interest in trying again. Meanwhile, Jimmy figures if he can work up the nerve to ask the sardonic checkout clerk Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) on a date, he might get some help. On the other hand, Jimmy’s cousin Mike (Skyler Stone) is only concerned about how the baby will impinge on everyone’s social life. “Raising Hope” will seek laughs in the immensely challenging world of parenting.
Just reading the show description about “Running Wilde” should be enough to realize this show is wildly inspired by “Arrested Development.” Suspicions are confirmed when realizing that writer-producer Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of “Arrested Development,” is behind this new comedy starring Will Arnett, another veteran of “Arrested Development.” For his part, Arnett fits perfectly in the role of Steve Wilde, a filthy rich, immature and spoiled playboy trying desperately to win (or buy) the heart of his childhood sweetheart, Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell), a socially conscious humanitarian who is on a crusade to save an indigenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest. The son of an oil tycoon, Steve hasn’t had to work a day in his life and always gotten everything he’s wanted except the woman he loves.
Emmy, the earnest do-gooder, is happy to live in the jungle with her 12-year-old daughter Puddle (Stefania Owen), who would like to experience a normal childhood in a normal place. When Wilde Oil’s expansion into the rainforest threatens her adopted tribe, Emmy decides to attend Steve’s self-thrown “Humanitarian of the Year” award ceremony in hopes of convincing him to help her cause, and also because she may still have a thing for him. Steve is unwilling to put his meal ticket in jeopardy, but he can’t risk letting Emmy slip away again. With Emmy committed to doing good for nothing, and Steve being a good for nothing, “Running Wilde” will look for the laughs as a mismatched pair tries to reconcile their differences.
In case you forgot, “Glee” is the network’s premier show, and for that reason FOX announced that a very special “Glee” will air following Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, February 6, 2010, and the musical series will make its spring premiere on Wednesdays following “American Idol,” which we can speculate will have a panel of judges made up of Madonna, Lady Gaga and Billy Idol.
NBC TV NETWORK LOOKING FOR A TURNAROUND IN ITS FALL LINEUP
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Twice a year, TV critics from around the country gather at a posh hotel in the Los Angeles area to get the lowdown on upcoming programs from the broadcast and cable networks. It’s not a bad gig for someone who loves entertainment, when the opportunity to mix and mingle with celebrities and executives presents itself not just during interview panels but at the evening cocktail parties. Over the past couple of years, the situation for NBC television has been pretty grim, and on more than one occasion I have discussed the “sagging fortunes” of the peacock network.
Well, the feathers on the old bird may look a little brighter and shinier this fall. Things can only look up after last year’s debacle when the NBC brass misguidedly moved Jay Leno to the 10 o’clock hour. The Chicago Cubs, for that matter, have already endured a bad century. But misfortune doesn’t cling to network television in the same fashion. After all, a network doesn’t have to contend with New York Yankee imperialism or the curse of a goat. With the right team of writers, stars and producers converging in a slew of successful programs, a network can outperform even the most talented baseball managers.
When the nation’s TV critics gathered at the Beverly Hilton, a hotel with a celebrity pedigree of its own when it was owned by Merv Griffin, to hear about new shows, Jeff Gaspin, Chairman, NBC Universal Television Entertainment, signaled the network’s change of pace. The Chairman acknowledged that NBC has been “trying to rebuild” while striving for more stability and putting “a lot more money into development this year.” Often a network on the ropes will try to do too much too soon, a situation that Gaspin recognized when he said that the network “made too many changes too quickly from a position of weakness. And so it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The goal is to rebuild, get stronger.”
Judging from an ambitious fall schedule, I’d say the network may yet achieve its goal, and far sooner than the woeful Cubs will go the distance. Progress is made when risks are taken and new series are given a chance. NBC is targeting a number of action-oriented drama series, starting with a retooling of the “Law & Order” franchise. “Law & Order,” as we know it from its 20-year run, is moving away from its setting in New York, to be replaced by “Law & Order: Los Angeles.” The show’s creators have pointed out that there will be an episode about surfers and the beach. How’s that for a break from gritty crime in the Big Apple?
How do you get sexy fun in a spy drama that does not involve James Bond? “Undercovers,” starring Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a married couple brought out of retirement from the CIA, may do the trick. This fun couple, Steven and Samantha Bloom who met on the job as spies, has settled down in Los Angeles to operate a small catering company. When a fellow spy and good friend goes missing while on the trail of a Russian arms dealer, the Blooms are reinstated to locate and rescue their friend. Now thrust back into the world of espionage, the Blooms find that the undercover lifestyle provides the kind of excitement they have been missing by leading a normal existence.
Jimmy Smits is back on screen as playboy Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza who has an epiphany and decides to retire so that he can enter private practice in “Outlaw.” That’s a curious title for a legal drama in which former Justice Garza’s first case is a last ditch attempt to save a condemned client from death. Making his mark as a legal crusader may have consequences, because flouting the system and turning maverick may have made some dangerous enemies in very places. Without the political intrigue, “Outlaw” would probably be just another courtroom drama.
I haven’t taken the time to figure out what “The Event” is all about. But what from little I know, it’s an emotional, high-octane conspiracy thriller that follows Jason Ritter’s Sean Walker, an everyman who investigates the baffling disappearance of his girlfriend (Sarah Roemer). Apparently, he unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history, and Sean’s quest will send ripples through the lives of an eclectic band of strangers, including the newly elected U.S. president and the leader of a mysterious group of detainees. There’s something about everyone’s future being on a collision course in a global conspiracy that could change the fate of mankind. If I am watching this show, I may have to wear a hat made of tinfoil.
Jerry Bruckheimer, the master of the action adventure genre in TV and movies, is bringing the action of the U.S. Marshal into full view in “Chase.” The tough, cowboy boot-wearing Marshal Annie Frost (Kelli Giddish) is on the hunt for dangerous fugitive Mason Boyle (Travis Fimmel) in the series’ pilot. The members of Frost’s elite team who help her anticipate Boyle’s moves and track him down include true American cowboy Jimmy Godfrey (Cole Hauser), intelligence specialist Marco Martinez (Amaury Nolasco), weapons/tactical specialist Daisy Ogbaa (Rose Rollins) and the newest member of the team, Luke Watson (Jesse Metcalfe).
To prove it’s not all serious business on the NBC schedule, the comedy “Outsourced” is an intriguing choice, to say the least, for tickling the funny bone during this most depressing year of our worsening economy. As the title implies, it’s all about a call center outsourced to a foreign land. When new manager Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport) returns to work after management training, he learns that Mid America Novelties call center has been outsourced to Mumbai, India. In order to keep his job, Todd is left with no choice but to relocate to India, where he is to teach his employees to understand America. Though the subject matter of outsourcing may be a sore point for many, the pilot episode has plenty of laughs. With Steve Carell leaving “The Office,” this may be the opportune time to launch a comedy about the dysfunctional workplace.
Last January, NBC was talking about reviving the 1970s private eye drama “The Rockford Files.” There was no mention of it this time around. Maybe NBC decided to see how CBS will fare with its reboot of the “Hawaii Five-O” franchise before committing to the revival of a vintage series. However, I think a replacement for James Garner may be the biggest challenge. But this will be the least of NBC’s concerns if the fall season does not mark an improvement in its fortunes.
ESPN TURNS SPOTLIGHT ON L.A. RAIDERS “GANGSTA RAP” IMAGE
A Special Article by Tim Riley
ESPN has been celebrating its 30th anniversary by engaging well-known filmmakers to create documentaries centered on the last 30 years in sports. As part of ESPN Films’ “30 for 30” initiative, rapper-turned-filmmaker Ice Cube, relying on his background as a member of the controversial rap group N.W.A., directed “Straight Outta L.A.” as a documentary on the transition of the Oakland Raiders to their new hometown of Los Angeles, beginning in 1982. ESPN airs this special film on Tuesday, May 11, 2010.
Beginning in 1979, I started attending Raider games at the Oakland Coliseum, and so I was naturally drawn to this documentary as a fan over the last three decades, regardless of the team’s domicile. Admittedly, I never wanted the Raiders to leave Oakland, but when I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 I would attend several games each season. Unfortunately, as this “Straight Outta L.A.” documentary makes clear, the Los Angeles Raiders morphed into an unfortunate worldwide rebel brand as the team’s colors, swagger and anti-establishment ethos became linked with “Gangsta Rap” and the hip-hop scene. That’s why just as many rappers, from Chuck D to Snoop Dogg, as former players are interviewed.
In the early years of the Raiders’ tenure in the Southland, the team won Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa Bay in a lopsided victory over the Washington Redskins. The best part of this documentary is commentary from players like Marcus Allen, Howie Long and Todd Christensen, as they recount the glory days of the Raiders in Los Angeles. For a brief time, the goodwill of a victory cemented the Raiders’ appeal to the larger community. There is video clip of President Reagan congratulating Coach Tom Flores. Mayor Tom Bradley speaks glowingly of this bright moment in Los Angeles’ sports history at a post-Super Bowl downtown celebration.
For a while, the Raiders had a winning streak that kept faith with its ubiquitous “Commitment to Excellence” slogan. But as the team began its decline into mediocrity later in the decade, the atmosphere at Raider games crumbled into a regrettable scene of unruly crowds. Increasingly, unsavory elements proved so disruptive that police routinely arrested dozens of troublemakers. “Straight Outta L.A.” explores the sociological reasons that gang members, among others, latched on to the Silver and Black culture to the extent that Raiders hats and jackets became the best-selling NFL merchandise.
“Straight Outta L.A.” takes an interesting measure of how the NFL’s rebel franchise became the toast of America’s glamour city before it all came crumbling down. Even the race riots of 1992 played significantly into the ultimate unwillingness of owner Al Davis to stay in Los Angeles. Well, at least, this is the insight provided by Ice Cube, Ice-T or Snoop Dogg, as they weigh in on the cultural impact of Gangsta Rap and the affinity for the Raiders’ colors. Clips of an interview with Al Davis are interspersed throughout the film, and though he remains cagey and inscrutable, he faults the NFL and Los Angeles for his inability to get a deal on a new football stadium. He reminds everyone that if Los Angeles put together a deal for a new venue, they could always knock on his door.
In a concluding narrative, Ice Cube says that the Silver and Black may call another place home, but the Raiders will always belong to Los Angeles. Unless Al Davis pulls a surprise move again, I doubt the Raiders belong to Los Angeles, Inglewood’s Hollywood Park or even the gravel pit in Irwindale. The Raiders are once again the Oakland Raiders and have been for more than 15 years.
They are back where they belong, with the infamous Black Hole and the tailgates parties where the participants look like characters out of “Mad Max.” But Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke observes that at the Coliseum in South Central L.A. the tailgate parties took the spirit of “Mad Max” to the extreme, including fist fights all the time and tackle football games played on concrete pavement.
Oakland Raiders fans should view “Straight Outta L.A.” as not just a dark chapter in their favorite team’s fabled history, but a fascinating cultural study of the Silver and Black’s appeal to various segments of society.
LOOKING TO STAY ON TOP, CBS TV TINKERS ON THE MARGINS
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Reverberations from the messy divorce between NBC and Conan O’Brien are likely to linger for a time. For some parties the future of TV may be unclear. However, the failed experiment of placing Jay Leno on the 10 o’clock hour redounded to the benefit of the other major networks. Speaking to a gathering of TV critics from around the nation, Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, proclaimed that the fall season propelled her network to the number one spot in primetime, daytime and late night programming.
Alluding to the recent fall schedule, when CBS introduced the new series of “The Good Wife” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” Tassler said it has been “a great season for network television” with an “outstanding freshman class across the board,” citing the successful examples of “Modern Family” on ABC, “Glee” on FOX, and “The Vampire Diaries” on the CW network. Noticeably absent from her praise of vital programming on other networks was any mention of NBC. Actually, all of NBC’s competitors should be thankful that the peacock network completely bungled its 10 o’clock schedule, allowing the rest of them to move in on the valuable primetime real estate.
No doubt, CBS is riding high right now, and things look great on the immediate horizon with the upcoming Super Bowl and “The Grammy” awards, not to mention the new season launches for “The Amazing Race” and “Survivor.” As Tassler so notably observed, “there is no substitute for developing great shows, working with great talent, and getting your program on the air.” Viewed as a three-part strategy, the last piece of her observation is even more critical when considering the timing of a new program’s debut. The new reality series “Undercover Boss” will be unveiled after the Super Bowl on Super Sunday, February 7th.
“Undercover Boss” is a reality series that follows high level corporate executives as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their own companies. Each week, a different executive will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their corporation. In theory, while working alongside their employees, these executives will learn about themselves, the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization, and the perception of their company.
The producers of “Undercover Boss” are hoping to find that the executives, as a bonus, may discover the unsung heroes of their work force. I am wondering if they might instead uncover some old-fashioned featherbedding. Too bad we can’t get the Postmaster General to work in the back room sorting through sacks of mail. This program is not likely to work all that well with smaller companies where the boss may be more visible to the workers. The element of surprise is essential. This should fairly well remove any possibility that we will be treated to Donald Trump working on a construction crew for one of his real estate development projects.
Another element to the timing strategy is the upcoming 20th installment of “Survivor.” It premieres with a special two-hour episode on Thursday, February 11th. What is the significance of that date, you ask? The launch of “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” is the day before the start of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which is being broadcast by the struggling NBC network with the hope if not expectation of a ratings bonanza. “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” reunites twenty former castaways, including some of the most heroic and controversial contestants.
The unforgettable castaways will compete deep in the South Pacific on the breathtaking island of Samoa and will be divided into two tribes of 10 comprised of the best “heroes” and the biggest “villains” to ever play the game. According to the handy notes provided by the CBS publicity machine, the “heroes” have been defined by their decisions of integrity, courage and honor, while the “villains” have mastered their skills of deception, manipulation and duplicity.
The series will follow the relationships and conflicts that develop among the two divergent groups. In the “villain” category is Jerri Manthey, who achieved her own degree of notoriety for making a big splash with the cover and an inside pictorial feature in “Playboy.” She’s in fine company with Kim Kardashian.
If there is one guy in Hollywood who will never be out of work, it must be producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the prolific mover behind just about any big action movie and TV program in the last ten to twenty years. His name is synonymous with high-octane action and explosive adventure. His feature film resume includes “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Bad Boys,” “Top Gun” and more recently “National Treasure.” On television, he’s produced “Without a Trace,” “CSI: NY” and “CSI: Miami,” to name a few.
For the first time ever, Bruckheimer will now produce a medical drama. “Miami Medical,” coming on the CBS schedule in early April, is about a team of expert surgeons who thrive on the adrenaline rush of working at one of the premiere trauma facilities in the country while drawing upon their wit and irreverence to survive on the edge. The “Alpha Team” of doctors includes Jeremy Northam’s Dr.
Matthew Proctor, new to the trauma team after leaving a lucrative private practice following his return from a tour of duty in a MASH unit during the first Gulf War. Lana Parrilla’s Dr. Eva Zambrano is a workaholic surgeon who wishes she had more time for a personal life. Mike Vogel’s Dr. Chris Deleo is a playboy who thrives on the high-stakes of trauma medicine.
Fresh out of medical school, Elisabeth Harnois’ Dr. Serena Warren is quickly learning the meaning of trial by fire. The glue that holds this team of doctors together, Omar Gooding’s head nurse Tuck Brody seeks to bring balance to this chaotic corner of the medical profession.
With a solid schedule, CBS only needs to tinker on the margins to maintain its edge. Another round of “Survivor” and a possible hit show from Jerry Bruckheimer should do the trick.
ABC TV NETWORK HAS STABILITY BUT NOW RISKS LOSING “LOST”
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The fortunes of network television rise and fall on the success of programming decisions made by the executives who must nervously await public validation of their actions. Only a few short years ago, Stephen McPherson, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, gambled his fall schedule on ten new series, which is kind of like replacing all five cards dealt in a poker game. In any case, stability now reigns at the ABC television network, and McPherson continues in his position as head honcho.
Speaking to a gathering of the nation’s TV critics, McPherson acknowledged indirectly that success comes not just from stability in a schedule, but the willingness to gamble when necessary. “I think we are going to continue to be ambitious,” he said, adding “that’s where we succeed.” On the flip side, he also noted that “where we have been derivative and played it safe, I think we fail.” In this regard, it’s evident that ABC is going to miss “Lost” when its run comes to an end.
I confess that I never get caught up in the hoopla over “Lost,” the drama that launched in September 2004 and has been nominated, by McPherson’s count, for 146 awards. Having won the prestigious Peabody Award as well as the Emmy and Golden Globe for Best Drama Series, “Lost” is a creative force to be reckoned with, but still I never succumbed to its appeal. Frankly, I found myself “lost” when watching “Lost,” which is likely to happen when you tune in briefly to show that requires total commitment to faithful viewing and understanding of the key players.
In any case, ABC has announced that “Lost” comes to an end in a primetime special event on Sunday, May 23rd, a two-hour episode from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. Preceding the finale will be a recap special from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m., something like a Cliff Notes for the occasional viewer. McPherson issued a statement that the ABC network is “giving the producers an unprecedented opportunity to respect the fans and really satisfy the viewers with a spectacular conclusion.” Fans of “Lost” now have a challenge to see if the network lives up to its promise.
Stability in a network is also evident when commitments are made early to renew viable series. ABC has solidified its Wednesday Night Comedy lineup by announcing early pick-ups of “Cougar Town,” “The Middle,” and “Modern Family,” all of which are freshman shows. “Modern Family,” which makes the cookie cutter mold of man and wife and 2.5 kids a thing of the past, is the network’s top-rated new comedy. Starring Patricia Heaton, “The Middle” has found success with the traditional family and solid Midwestern values. As for “Cougar Town,” Courteney Cox is all the rage as a newly divorced single mother of a certain age submerged in the dating scene.
In case you missed it, ABC recently premiered the new legal drama “The Deep End,” making up for the fact that “Boston Legal” ran its course. Instead of delving primarily into the quirks of senior partners, “The Deep End” focuses on the tragedies and triumphs of five earnest twenty-something first-year associates fighting to stay afloat in one of Los Angeles’ top law firms. Not surprisingly, the neophytes are tossed into the shark-infested waters of a cutthroat environment. The five associates struggle with ethical decisions, while the firm’s partners are up to their eyeballs in backstabbing and the occasional office romances. Billy Zane’s partner is married to another partner (Nicole Ari Parker), but that doesn’t keep him from sleeping with the paralegal.
Arriving later this spring as a midseason replacement is the quirky drama “Happy Town,” a show that producer Scott Rosenberg told TV critics would generate inevitable comparisons to “Twin Peaks.” In fact, Rosenberg recounted how he bet someone involved with that show that he would provide a dollar for every review of his new show that doesn’t mention “Twin Peaks” and that he guaranteed he would wind up not owing a nickel. According to the producer, the comparison is inevitable because “Happy Town” is a “spooky, small-town show.” I am expecting Rosenberg to send me a dollar because I will not directly bring up a comparison to David Lynch’s cult favorite creation.
Haplin, Minnesota is a small town haunted by a number of unsolved kidnappings. After an uneasy peace for five years, the town now faces a dark new crime that brings all its unresolved fears to the surface. Has the elusive “Magic Man,” who many believe is responsible for the bizarre abductions, returned to claim another victim?
The motives of prominent citizens come under scrutiny as their own secrets and personalities are peeled back one layer at a time. Dragged away from his idyllic family life to investigate the new spate of crimes, Tommy Conroy (Geoff Stults), a small town deputy under the wing of his dad, long-time popular Sheriff Griffin Conroy (M.C. Gainey), has never had to take charge of Haplin’s law enforcement.
On the other side of town, the long shadow of the Haplin founding family, represented by mysterious matriarch Peggy Haplin (Frances Conroy) and her son, John (Steven Weber), who runs the local bread factory, try to maintain control. John’s daughter was one of the “Magic Man’s” victims, and he has not given up hope of finding her and seeing justice. Like some other show I won’t mention, “Happy Town” is full of colorful characters caught in webs of intrigue and mystery. Producer Rosenberg claims that his show looks to give answers in swift fashion.
Every time a question is raised, it should be answered in the next episode, though the answer is likely to open up another question. “The idea is to really be giving individual satisfactions within each episode to reassure the audience that answers are coming and that it’s not just going to be dragging something else,” says the producer in his comforting words.
Though not ready yet to announce its all-star cast, ABC kicks off the tenth season of the hit reality series “Dancing with the Stars” with a huge two-hour premiere on Monday, March 22nd. I had no idea we’re already upon a double-digit season. Sometimes I feel like Rip Van Winkle, rising from a deep slumber and unaware of important cultural news like this.
GLEEFUL FOX TV NETWORK RIDING
HIGH IN THE RATINGS
A Special Article by Tim Riley
In years past the FOX TV network would just start getting revved up during the winter months, in no small measure due to the inevitable ratings boost from a new season of “American Idol” that has always launched in January. Though it is no longer news to anyone, Simon Cowell made a surprise appearance at the recent TV critics press tour to end all speculation about his future on “American Idol.” Most surprisingly, the brash Simon humbly likened his departure to that of a good football player retiring, while noting “the team will continue to be successful.”
No sooner had Simon, in what was totally out of character, taken an unassuming, self-effacing stance about his pivotal role, FOX Chairman Peter Rice stepped in to boost his flagging ego. While expressing commitment to “American Idol” for as long as it lasts, Rice noted that “Simon is irreplaceable, but it’s going to be incumbent upon us to make sure the show remains vital and entertaining and compelling.” Nobody knows, or nobody is saying, who will take over for Simon, but someone other than Ryan Seacrest will just have to become available.
For his part, Cowell will be devoting himself after the end of this season’s “American Idol” to launching “The X Factor” in the fall of 2011. Having created the show in the United Kingdom, Cowell seeks to duplicate “The X Factor” formula in the United States, bringing us another singing competition reality program, but one in which there is no upper age limit for contestants. Cowell noted the logistical challenge of launching “The X Factor,” because in the United Kingdom the show generated 250,000 applicants every year. The program is not yet ready to accept applications, but stay tuned, as they say in television.
I hate getting into the ratings business, but FOX Chairman Peter Rice insisted that his network was Number One for the first time ever entering the month of January. It used to be that FOX could only achieve that status during the winter due to the success of the show that Simon Cowell is soon abandoning. Maybe with the success of “Glee” and “The Cleveland Show” FOX no longer has to rely on the whims of a maniacal British talent show judge. Nevertheless, television programming is never a static affair, and new programs always have to be in the pipeline.
One new series that just premiered is “Human Target,” based on the popular DC Comics graphic novel of the same name. Mark Valley stars as Christopher Chance, a unique private contractor/security expert/bodyguard who literally turns himself into a human target for the benefit of his clients. He solves protection issues through unusual means. If, for example, you’re the president of a bank who’s been tipped off to a potential heist, Chance is your unassuming bank teller. During each job, Chance gets help from his partner Winston (Chi McBride) and hired gun Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), as he puts himself directly in the line of fire to save the lives of his clients.
Family comedy “Sons of Tucson” has an interesting premise. Three brothers hire a charming, wayward schemer to stand in as their father when their real one goes to prison. The kids wisely don’t want to end up in foster care, but their dad-for-hire Ron Snuffkin (Tyler Labine) is not exactly qualified for parental duty. A lovable slacker working at a sporting goods store, Ron has his hands full dealing with the brothers, one of which is a con man like his father, the oldest one is a committed optimist with a unique world view and the youngest is a loose cannon who doesn’t respond well to authority.
Have you ever experienced déjà vu or met someone you thought seemed familiar? DO you believe in karma, fate or love at first sight? Have you ever had an out-of-body experience? I don’t know about you, but I might answer in the affirmative to at least two of these questions. In any case, these queries are set forth as a preface to the new drama series “Past Life,” which investigates the world of the unexplained through the eyes of a doctor and a former detective who must work together to solve decades-old mysteries.
In “Past Life,” Kelli Giddish’s Dr. Kate McGinn is a psychologist working at a world-renowned institute dedicated to the study of the science of the soul. A believer in reincarnation, Kate uses therapy and her natural gift for reading people to solve the mysteries of her troubled clients. Kate’s partner, Nicholas Bishop’s Price Whatley, is a different story. A former NYPD homicide detective, the pragmatic and cynical Price is a damaged soul who constantly battles grief and guilt over the accidental death of his wife. Kate and Price make a formidable, albeit somewhat dysfunctional team that works with other colleagues in each episode to unravel a new mystery.
One show that I think sounds intriguing won’t be around until May and by then may have a new title other than its working one of “Code 58.” For one thing, this new action comedy is produced by Matt Nix, who serves the same function with “Burn Notice,” one of the best shows running. “Code 58” is about what happens when an old-school cop and a modern-day detective expose the big picture of small crime. Once upon the 1970s, Bradley Whitford’s Dan Stark was a big-shot Dallas detective and local hero. Thirty years later, Dan is a washed-up detective who spends most of his time drunk or rehashing his glory days. A stranger to modern police work, Dan has the reputation of being a bit of a wild card.
Almost obligatory in cop shows, “Code 58” requires that Dan must have a partner, in this case a mismatch with Colin Hanks’ Jack Bailey, a younger, ambitious, by-the-book and overall good detective who is sometimes too snarky for his own good. Jack’s habit of undermining himself has earned him a dead-end position in the department, so naturally he’s a good fit for Dan. Both of them are stuck solving annoying petty theft cases that nobody else wants. But worse of all for Dan is that he has the thankless job of babysitting Dan, the drunk pariah who can never keep partners for long.
Fans of “24” are so dedicated that viewing parties are typically organized for each episode. So I don’t need to remind you that Season Eight just got underway, and Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer is once again doing what he does best.
THE BUSINESS OF MOVIES GRINDS ON AT AMERICAN FILM MARKET
A Special Article by Tim Riley
Once again, another year gone by, and I am standing in the lobby of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, pondering my first move in covering the annual American Film Market (AFM), the international swap meet for films, TV programs and stuff you’ll never see because even Netflix doesn’t carry all the direct-to-video titles in its seemingly endless inventory. Usually, it’s just fun to scope out the players milling around the beachfront hotel’s grand entry, watching the inevitable hustle of film deals about to go down. But then, I gaze out the windows facing the expansive beach, wishing that I were somehow magically transported to the French Riviera.
Waking from my reverie, I realize that November’s chilly air in Southern California will guarantee that starlets in bikinis won’t be catching the eye of grateful paparazzi. Glamour gives way to the hard realities of the AFM’s prime reason for existence, namely bringing together buyers and sellers of films, TV programs and videos into one big, glorious orgy of screening 445 motion pictures in 27 languages over the span of eight days. Who can possibly watch that many movies? I calculated that it might be possible to see approximately 100 films, give or take a few, over that period of time if only one endured them in a 24-hour per day marathon.
Foregoing an impossible film schedule, the next best thing appeared to be a visit to the hospitality suite of the infamous Troma Pictures, a company that embraces schlock cinema with the blind devotion normally found in a cult. Troma made a name for itself with “Surf Nazis Must Die” and “The Toxic Avenger” series, classic films that remain prominent in the company’s catalog. I was hoping for something really outrageous, but discovered Troma is still pushing “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead,” a film so bad that it got the nerds from “Ain’t It Cool News” worked up into an approving frenzy. Realizing that sex sells around the globe, the Troma folks are also pushing “The Sexy Box,” which is nothing but a descriptive term for the packaging of four sex comedies that were apparently made long before anyone thought “Porky’s” was a good idea.
Despite the garish displays in its suite, Troma hasn’t cornered the market on bad taste or even low-rent horror films. Still, it’s a challenge to find advertising flyers that trump the delightful grotesqueness of the Troma marketing plan. Giving it a try is a company called Imagination, which promotes “Smash Cut” with the picture of a leggy young nurse holding two bloody, severed hands. Idream Independent Pictures is selling “Fired” by using the imagery of a woman’s naked torso as she holds a decapitated head in her bloody hands behind her back.
All in all, the bad taste award goes to Amadeus Pictures for its film “Polanski,” which illustrates the vile Polish film director in the throes of forcing himself upon an underage girl. Incredibly enough, the advertising flyer notes that Roman Polanski was involved in a “sex scandal and fled to France where he has lived a rather reclusive life.” A sex scandal is when a prominent politician is fooling around with an intern of legal age, paying an expensive call girl for kinky sex, and running off to Argentina for a tryst with a “soul mate.” Unlike dumb politicians, Polanski is a criminal who belongs in jail, notwithstanding what some dimwitted Hollywood types would like to believe.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and this idiom is perfectly useful at AFM. Fred Dryer, not heard from since his TV series “Hunter,” is starring as a county sheriff in “Death Valley.” He’s not to be confused with the considerably younger Eric Christian Olsen, who’s starring in another “Death Valley,” which is about a violent motorcycle gang. Imitation also takes shape in the similarity of advertising. Two beautiful blondes are featured in similar seductive poses for the films “Women in Trouble” and “Stripped Naked,” with the only difference being that the babe in the latter film is also holding a gun, mainly because she’s described as having “a killer body and a gun.”
AFM is the place to come to find the forgotten stars of yesterday. Look, it’s Peter Falk and George Segal starring as old cronies on a road trip from Florida to Sin City in “3 Days to Vegas.” I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t know Peter Falk is still alive, but the Internet says he’s been placed in a conservatorship. Hey, that probably beats working in a film that might not even get a video release. Amazingly, Dolph Lundgren is still making movies, but it should not be surprising that in “Icarus” he plays a trained KGB assassin. As long as filmmakers need someone to pay a Soviet heavy, Lundgren’s career remains safe, at least for now.
Action pictures will always be a staple for the AFM crowd, as these pictures, unlike comedies, often translate well to foreign markets. I particularly like the advertising flyer for “Rambo V: The Savage Hunt.” After recently completing “Rocky XXII,” Sylvester Stallone, likely qualifying any day now for Medicare, remains an unstoppable force. The same probably can’t be said for Arnold Schwarzenegger, even as his political career winds down. The Governator is not going to be starring in the 2010 version of “Conan,” a project being promoted by Nu Image, even though no actor has apparently yet signed on to flex his muscles.
I’d like to end on an upbeat note, but first I must point out that the spirit of Mel Brooks still lives, though now in a foreign land. “Hitler Goes Kaput” looks like a piece of inspired lunacy. The film is billed as “the best action comedy to come out of Russia ever.” Given the gloomy past of the old Soviet Empire, that’s probably not an overstatement. In any case, it should be observed that AFM does deliver some promising films of great artistic merit.
One to keep an eye on is “From Time to Time,” starring the venerable Maggie Smith as the grandmother to a young boy who discovers he has the power to travel through time.
Attending the AFM is a fun, interesting exercise for any who loves the movies. Much like browsing through a flea market, it’s a joy to discover some gems. I now recall that last year “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” with its impressive cast, looked like a possible winner as it was being sold at the market, and now a year later that impression proved to be prescient.