Friday, October 27, 2006
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Show updates: To no ones surprise Shark got a full season order this week. This means that half of CBS’s new shows have full season orders. Of course when Smith was cancelled it meant that a quarter of the new shows had been cancelled - CBS only introduced four new series this year. No word yet on The Class but I wouldn’t be surprised if it got a full year too.
Also, NBC (which is simultaneously complaining about the cost of production of new programming in the first hour of primetime – see below) has announced that they will be ordering more episodes of Friday Night Lights, a show which at least currently airs the first hour of primetime, but would probably benefit from a move away from Dancing With The Stars and NCIS.
CBS getting creative; NBC, not so much: Apparently next season on CBS won’t feature as any new “procedural” series like CSI or Criminal Minds. TV Squad reports that the network is looking at series about wife swapping and the sexual revolution of the 1970s, the women’s movement, a comedy from one of the writers of Borat, and an American version of Viva Blackpool. The latter is a BBC production that mixed the criminal investigation of a murder at a casino (though they called it an arcade, a word that has a different meaning in
NBC on the other hand has announced that it will no longer be programming either comedies or dramas in the first hour of primetime. According the NBC president Jeff (two ‘F’s, one ‘Z’) Zucker, “advertisers just won't pay enough money during the 8 pm time slot to cover the costs of comedies and dramas.” Instead the network will be offering reality programs and game shows. In fact what Zucker really means is that advertisers won’t pay enough money for the comedies and dramas that NBC is putting on the air during the “8 pm time slot”. That’s fairly obvious since none of the other four networks has had much problem finding sponsors. Currently NBC runs the drama Friday Night Lights and the comedies The Office and My Name Is Earl in the first hour of prime time.
What does the PTC hate this week?: NewsCorp, the parent company of Fox and the FX cable network. In a statement at the NewsCorp shareholders meeting, PTC Chairman of the Board Lee Weil made this statement: “Mr. Murdoch, I believe that you are a good man with solid values, and yet NewsCorp has clearly carved out a niche for itself by specializing in smutty, vulgar, and violent entertainment, all in pursuit of profit. You should be ashamed - but it’s clear that you aren’t, and neither are the executives that work for you.” Well right there he got it wrong. Rupert Murdoch is a man whose newspapers ouside of the United States regularly feature pictures of topless women, graphic details of the latest in gossip and whatever titillating crime has oozed out from whatever rock. Murdoch is all about the profit. Always has been from the time he took over the Adelaide News after the death of his father. Profit is why he founded Fox News Channel.
The PTC Chairman then goes on to list some of the “smutty, vulgar, and violent entertainment” Murdoch should be ashamed of:
- Nip/Tuck which has featured themes of misogyny, sexual violence, incest, bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia. The producer of the series has publicly stated that his goal is to pave the way for broadcast television to feature a “rear-entry” sex-scene in the next three years.
- The Shield which has featured an officer of the law acting out rape fantasies with prostitutes and being forced to fellate a gang member at gunpoint.
- Rescue Me which recently included a scene of a man raping his estranged wife.
- The War at Home which one TV critic described as “unconscionably smutty.”
The PTC Chairman then went on to decry “NewsCorp’s flagrant disregard for families as demonstrated by its abuse of the publicly owned airwaves through its refusal to abide by federal decency laws and community standards and NewsCorp’s complicity in forcing families to subsidize the pornographic content on its cable properties as part of their cable package.” At this point Weil informs us that he\e “cherishes the First Amendment” but then quotes Theodore Roosevelt: “I believe in the first amendment, and I cherish the freedoms our forefathers fought and died for, but I also know that with freedom must come responsibility. Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘Men can never escape being governed. Either they must govern themselves or they must submit to being governed by others.’” Weil offers a warning: “Until NewsCorp does a better job of keeping sexually explicit and violent content off of television during hours when children are in the viewing audience; until NewsCorp stops forcing cable subscribers to help pay for the disgusting and depraved content of Nip/Tuck you will be under the constant scrutiny of the FCC, of Congress, and of millions of outraged American families.” Families represented, of course, by the PTC and its more religiously based counterpart the American Family Association.
They actually changed the Worst of the Week show from what I thought I had seen earlier this week – back when my own computer actually worked. This time around their Worst of the Week is the episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit which featured Jerry Lewis. They started out by pointing out Jerry’s presence on the show: “One of
Friday, October 20, 2006
We here at I Am A Child Of Television are currently experiencing Technical Difficulties. To be more specific, it appears as though my computer has given up the ghost. It won't boot or show the manufacturer's flash screen. The hard drive and both optical drives are operating but even attempting to boot from an Ubuntu Linux live disk did nothing. I suspect that the CPU is fried. The machine has been acting up for a little while - it started reporting hardware conflicts and refused to recognise that there was paper in my printer amongst other things, then on Thursday I turned it off and when I turned it on again nothing happened on the monitor.
I am writing this on my brother's computer - I'm house sitting for him again - and I have a couple of ideas to try to replace my computer that might work. I should be able to do another post on this computer but after that I don't know is Momentarily, Temporarily, or Please Stand By applies to my current situation.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
At the same time that the game show seemed to be dying out as an American form new shows were appearing in Europe, some of which took a wildly different approach to the form. Part of this was the rise of the "reality competition show" - things like Belgium's The Mole, Sweden's Expedition Robinson, Now Or Neverland and Big Brotherfrom Holland. All of these shows migrated to North America, with Expedition Robinson becoming Survivor and Now Or Neverland turning into Fear Factor. As is obvious from this list American television saw the success that these show had and when producers like Endemol and Mark Burnett brought those shows to American networks they were quite willing to pick the shows up. The popularity of these shows encouraged American networks to look at other types of European shows including game shows. ABC had a hit with an American version of the British hit Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, hosted by daytime talk show host Regis Philbin, a show which continues today in syndication, hosted by Meredith Viera. NBC brought the BBC series The Weakest Link to the United States, featuring the original British host, journalist and television presenter Anne Robinson. More recently the network brought the Endemol series Deal Or No Deal to America, a show which has versions in 26 other countries. And on Friday NBC introduced another Endemol series, 1 vs. 100.
Known in the Netherlands as Eén Tegen Honderd, 1 vs. 100 bears a strong resemblance to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? There is a single player and "The Mob" - 100 people with varying degrees of education. The show's host, Bob Saget, asks both The Player and The Mob a multiple choice question with three answers. There are twelve levels of questions with values between $100 and $10,000. The Mob answers the question in secret after which the Player answers the question publicly. If the Player answers the question correctly, an amount of money equal to the number of members of The Mob who got the answer wrong times the value of the question at that level is placed into a pool. The Player can either take the money or again face The Mob. If The Player answers the a question incorrectly the money in the pool is split between the surviving members of The Mob. The Player has two "Helps" that can be used at any point during the game. The first time The Player uses a Help he/she selects one of the three answers to the question and may ask one of the people in The Mob who gave that answer for an explanation of why that answer was given. This would seem to be a combination of Millionaire's "Phone-a-Friend" and "Ask The Audience" life lines. The second time The Player uses a Help the "game" (which of course means the producers) selects two members of The Mob. One has entered the correct answer while the other has entered an incorrect answer. The Player can then ask why the two people have chosen their answer. This Help most closely resembles Millionaire's "50/50" life line, since one incorrect answer is always eliminated. If The Player successfully eliminates all 100 members of The Mob, the top prize of $1 million will be awarded. To make it worthwhile for members of The Mob to give correct answers, those who haven't been eliminated before The Player is either defeated or walks away with the cash stay to compete against subsequent players while those who are eliminated are replaced in The Mob.
The show reveals its similarities to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? early on. The first question asked to the first contestant was "The 2003 movie Seabiscuit featured what kind of animal in the title role? A) one with fins, B) one with paws, C) one with hooves?" Both The Player - a bouncer who wanted to win enough money to buy an engagement ring and hold a really good wedding for his fiancee - and The Mob which included nine teachers, three Deal Or No Deal models, and Jeopardy's biggest winner ever Ken Jennings, all got it right. It was a simple question but as Regis Philbin once revealed the producers of Millionaire would offer very easy questions in the first couple of levels so that kids playing along at home wouldn't feel frustrated. Of course there were some players on that show who didn't know the right answer to those "simple" questions. The Player won his first money at the $500 level when eight members of The Mob didn't know that a "pupu platter" was a type of Polynesian dish frequently served at Chinese restaurants. He picked up over $22,000 at the $1,000 level when the question asked what the name of the (then) current Secretary General of the United Nations would be if it were rendered in the style of the song "The Name Game" (if you're interested it is Kofi, Kofi bo Bofi). In the end the player walked away after completing the $5,000 question, using both of his Helps and winning $135,000. He also eliminated 58 members of The Mob.
I confess that I was intrigued about this show. To say that it is far more complicated than Deal Or No Deal is probably an insult; Candyland is more complicated than Deal Or No Deal. The format gives both The Player and The Mob an incentive for getting the answer right. At the same time both The Player and The Mob have a rooting interest in the player eliminating members of The Mob but eliminating them late in the game. If the player eliminates 30 members of The Mob at the $500 level and goes out at the $1,000 level, the 70 remaining members of The Mob split $15,000, getting $214.28 each. If on the other hand 30 members of The Mob are eliminated at the $5,000 level that adds $150,000 to the pot. Assuming that these were the first eliminations (highly unlikely) that would give the remaining 70 members of The Mob $2,142.85. In other words keeping as many members of The Mob in the game until the higher levels benefits whoever wins the money. While the show doesn't have the mathematical complexities of the seemingly simple Deal Or No Deal - there have been analyses of optimal strategies in that game - it is certainly more of a challenge.
Bob Saget is a perfectly adequate host, nowhere near as manic or eccentric as Howie Mandel can be or as excitable as Regis Philbin. Saget's years hosting America's Funniest Home Videos and his time on Full House make him a comfortable presence as host. He moves around a certain amount and seems relaxed as he eases information out of the players and talks to members of The Mob when The Player uses one of his Helps. The set design is interesting. The set is constructed so that the members of The Mob are seated "stadium style" in front of individual panels of lights which are normally blue but change colour when a member of The Mob gets the answer wrong before their lights go out and they effectively disappear into darkness. The studio audience is seated behind The Player in more conventional TV studio seating so that their perspective is similar to The Player's.
I found myself enjoying the first episode of this series when I eventually watched it. I'd like to see more challenging questions but then that's a common gripe of mine when it comes to this sort of program - I want Jeopardy style questions on the grounds that both players and the audience aren't stupid and that they want to see the players pushed a bit. Barring the sort of overexposure and reliance on gimmicks such as frequent "celebrity" editions that became a problem for shows like Millionaire and Weakest Link I feel that this show could do quite well. In that respect I would say that it is at best a one or two night a week thing. You could easily replace one of the three editions of Deal Or No Deal with 1 vs. 100 which might not be that bad an idea. On the other hand, given the state of the current NBC line up - which is showing more than a small amount of weakness - it is entirely possible that the show will find a spot of its own. I'd offer a qualified recommendation for this even though it is delaying the return of Crossing Jordan.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Who does the PTC hate this Week? I hadn't thought that there'd be much, what with there being no new Worst of the week (really, they are slipping since I don't think they're being more tolerant). But then I spotted a press release on their site: PTC Condemns Prime Time Obscenities. I knew I had struck gold. Apparently there was an incident of using the "s-word" on MyNetwork TV's new telenovella Desire. According to the PTC "The incident occurred during the 8:00 pm hour on the East and West coasts and during the 7:00 pm hour in the Central and Mountain Time Zones, and, even worse, the word in question aired during the opening sequences of the program." Of course who would know, since according to the ratings nobody - except possibly the PTC membership - is actually watching the MyNetwork's programming. The other "incident" occurred on ER: "just last week, NBC scripted the word ‘t*ts’ into the October 5th broadcast of ER, which airs at 9:00 pm in the Central and Mountain Time Zones." They mean of course tits. (On the intellectual side this leads to the question of whether the PTC would object to the word "teats" which Pete Postlethwaite used to describe a woman's breasts in one of the Sharpe films that were done for Britain's ITV But I digress.) The PTC goes on to castigate both networks for not using the Language descriptor 'L' in their ratings for the program: “No doubt the networks will lean on a technology crutch to absolve themselves of any responsibility. But the v-chip would not have prevented a child from hearing either of these obscenities. Desire was rated TV-14, with no ‘L’ descriptor to warn viewers of the offensive language. ER was rated TV-14 also with no ‘L’ descriptor. Even if used properly in every home in America, the v-chip would not have prevented the transmission of these programs into the living rooms of millions of unsuspecting families." But then they go and destroy their argument with this little gem: “Language descriptors aside, how many families in America would deem words like ‘sh*t’ and ‘t*t’ to be appropriate for their 14-year old children?" If the PTC can find me a 14 year old who doesn't know (and probably use) the word "shit" I would be so shocked that I would probably wind up in a cardiac care ward (and the percentage of them who have heard their parents say that word is probably quite high). Granted, I find the MyNetwork situation offensive simply because of the time that the show aired and because they didn't use the language descriptor in their ratings. If you are going to have the V-Chip as an important part of the process for making TV "safe" for younger viewers, and produce ads to that effect as MyNetwork's sister operation Fox has done, then you'd better err on the side of caution in using the proper descriptors. On the other hand I think that the PTC is playing their usual absurd games with the ER situation, the same game that resulted in a fine for the episode of Without A Trace with the implied teen orgy - the word is only obscene (if in fact it is and obscenity) between Chicago and Phoenix. And when exactly was the last time that the FCC has ruled that the word "tit" was a restricted obscenity?
Show reports: Nothing was cancelled this past week. Ugly Betty, Heroes and Jericho have been given full season orders. CBS will be replacing Smith with the medical drama 3 Lbs. starring Stanley Tucci and Mark Feuerstein, while NBC will be returning Medium with Patricia Arquette to the line up on Wednesday nights. 3 Lbs. starts November 14 while Medium returns on November 15.
To the person who commented on the Smith cancellation: You wanted me to complain to CBS about the way they mistreated the show. In fact you commented on it twice in exactly the same words. Can you say comment spam? I knew you could. But now to your main position. I will not be complaining about the cancellation of Smith for two reasons. First, I'm a Canadian and the American networks don't give a Tinker's Dam for anyone outside the United States because we don't count in their ratings. Second, and more importantly, I didn't think the show was all that good. I didn't think the writing was all that good, particularly after the first episode, and I have heard that Ray Liotta in particular wasn't happy with the whole TV experience. CBS cancelled the show because it was a ratings black hole. Mark Berman, who tracks the overnight ratings from Media Week tracked Smith's decline in the Overnight Ratings: Sept. 19 - Overnights: 7.8/12; Viewers: 11.00 million; A18-49: 3.6/10; Sept. 26 - Overnights: 6.7/11; Viewers: 9.67 million; A18-49: 3.3/ 9; Oct. 3 - Overnights: 5.8/ 9; Viewers: 8.43 million; A18-49: 2.8/ 8. To quote Berman "In two weeks, Smith has declined by 26 percent in the overnights, 2.57 million viewers and 22 percent among adults 18-49." And this doesn't mention the fact that in the second week the audience dropped appreciably between the first half hour and the second - 7.1/11 to 6.4/11 in ratings (10%), 10.03 to 9.10 million in total viewers, and 3.3/ 9 to 3.0/ 8 in the 18-49 age group (9%). And remember that decline took place in the middle of an episode. That doesn't say lack of promotion to me, instead it suggests total disinterest in the show.
Sara Evans quits Dancing With The Stars: Our little Republican sex scandal. Sara was almost literally the official Republican candidate for Dancing With The Stars. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay sent a mass email to his supporters calling on them to support Sara Evans in Dancing With The Stars against other contestants including "ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer". The blog Think Progress has a scan of the email. In it DeLay states that Evans "has been a strong supporter of the Republican Party and represents good American values in media. From singing at the 2004 Republican Convention to appearing with candidates in the last several election cycles, we have always been able to count on Sara for her support of the things we believe in. One of her opponents on the show is ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer. We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place in television by supporting good people like Sara Evans." It must have worked somehow because let's face it she was scarcely the best dancer on the show and at least to pairs who performed better than she did were eliminated. DeLay even gave a plug to the website that Sara had set up for her fans to support her on the show. It's an odd site which won't let you even read comments or her blog about the show without registering, and includes such instructions as "10/17/2006 08:00 PM Watch Sara on DWTS; 10/17/2006 08:30 PM VOTE NOW FOR SARA."
The only problem is that Sara won't be on Dancing With The Stars on October 17. On Thursday October 12 - the day after the results show which eliminate Willa Ford and Maksim Chmerkovskiy - Evans announced that she had filed for divorce from her husband Craig Schelske, who is a prominent Republican fundraiser and a one time candidate for the House of Representatives from Oregon. As a result she will be withdrawing from Dancing With The Stars. Through her lawyers Evans accused Schelske of drinking to excess, watching pornography both on his computer and on television (at one point of being the couple's 7 year-old son came into the room while his father was watching porn), having at least 100 nude photos of himself in states of arousal on the family computer as well as a number of photos of himself having sex with other women, and advertising on Craig's List for "three party and anal sex." The latter is particularly interesting since according to the Washington Post Evans also states that Schelske refused to allow a costume designer for Dancing With The Stars come to their rented Los Angeles home because the man was "a sodomite" and that he claimed that upon seeing the costume designer one of the couple's three children "break out in hives." The Post reports that a Washington based spokesman for Schelske issued the following response on his behalf: "I have made the decision to forgive Sara for the unfortunate campaign that she and her publicity advisors are currently waging. . . . Sara has unfortunately become a dramatically different person over the last year and it is something we have struggled to deal with. Sadly, it appears we have failed. The best I can do at this difficult time is ask that people of faith would pray for her and for my family."
No decision has been made by the producers of Dancing With The Stars as to how they will deal with Evans's withdrawal from the show beyond allowing her to make a taped statement to her fans on the Tuesday show. One unconfirmed report suggests that producers will make this coming week a "non-voting" week while there is a groundswell of fan support to bring back Willa and Maks as the "last eliminated couple." Still, much as I dislike Sara Evans as a dancer, she seems like a basically nice person and I hate to see anything like this happen to just about anyone.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Like many of you I expected that the show this year that would make me writhe with despair would be Fox's Happy Hour but then a funny (well not so funny really but you get my drift) thing happened - I watched the pilot. There, amidst the bad writing and the characters drawn with what seemed like a broken crayon was a redeeming quality. Her name is Beth Lacke and and any time she is on the screen in that show you suddenly forget that there is anyone else on the screen. She dominates like a colossus among pygmies. Oh don't get me wrong, the show is terrible and there's only so much she can do to save it by force of personality, but at that it's better than 'Til Death and light years ahead of the abomination that is Twenty Good Years.
This isn't just because I don't like John Lithgow. Actually I loathe him, particularly when he's doing comedy - or in this case allegedly doing comedy. Lithgow is the inveterate scenery chewer and while someone like James Woods will from time have softer moments - in Shark these are usually the times with the character's daughter - for Lithgow there is no off switch. In Twenty Good Years he plays Dr. John Mason. Mason is a surgeon's surgeon with an ego that thinks that not only do surgeons think they're God, the most over achieving surgeons think that they're John Mason. Mason is an arrogant Lothario (he makes a suggestive comment to his scrub nurse after a surgery despite having several ex-wives) who imagines himself to be the indispensable man at the hospital where he works. It's a delusion shattered at his sixtieth birthday party at the hospital when the hospital administrator (played by Tim Russ from Star Trek: Voyager, who I only recognizes by his voice) presents him with a putter and tells him that he's going to have plenty of time to use it because he's being forced to retire. For two years he'll be working part-time before the hospital no longer needs his services.
John's best friend, Judge Jeffrey Pyne (played by Jeffrey Tambor), has his own problems. He's an exceptionally timid and indecisive man. This plays into the hands of his overbearing girlfriend Gina (played by Judith Light). She has told him - nay, ordered him - to propose to her that night at the party that Jeffrey is throwing for John's birthday and Jeffrey is more than cowed enough by her to do it. At the party we meet the other two regular characters in this show; John's daughter Stella (Heather Burns) who is extremely late in a pregnancy, and Jeffrey's son Hugh (Jake Sandvig) an improbably scrawny male model who is in a full page ad. Jeffrey scurries around his apartment worrying about what he should tell people who are asking about the father of Stella's impending child - she went to a sperm bank because she got tired of waiting for the "right" man - and about his son's chosen career - he wants Hugh to go back to college and tells him "I used to look like you!" as a warning. When John shows up at his party he is drunk on a bottle of vodka and having had a revelation. He has realized that he has never done any of the things that he wanted to do when he was a young man except be a surgeon. He tells Jeffrey that they have just twenty good years left and they should live them to the fullest. It isn't entirely clear that Jeffrey wants to be included in they but what John is saying is enough in the emotion of the moment for him to tell Gina - in front of all their friends - that he was dumping her. Gina reacts by slapping Jeffrey and then, for good measure, slapping John.
The morning after the party Jeffrey is full of regrets (to the point where he wants to reconcile with Gina) while John has decided that their first great adventure will be a polar bear swim and he has the Speedo "banana hammock" on under his coat that he intends to wear - after he moves into John's apartment of course. Jeffrey throws him out but essentially relents when Stella tells him that now that John is only working half time he can't afford his alimony payments to the several ex-wives and his apartment. She persuades Jeffrey to let John live with him; just before her water breaks. For once Jeffrey is decisive enough to keep Stella calm and ask his bailiff to get the emergency services. Stella gives birth to a baby girl who of course enchants John. The experience and bonding seems to be enough to get Jeffrey to go along on John's lifestyle change, and the next day they are seen charging into the frigid Atlantic.
Where to begin on what's wrong with Twenty Good Years? Oddly enough I won't start with the writing or the acting. Instead I will come down on whoever decided to add the laugh track for the episode. You do not add laughs when someone says something. Note that I didn't say something funny, I just said something. Whoever was adding laughter to this show apparently decided that any statement at all was worthy of at least a little laughter. Of course that might be because it was a little hard to tell when there was something to laugh at. There were a couple of moments that were genuinely funny, like after Gina slapped John and he said "Well that was just rude," or the moment when Jeffrey told his son "I used to look like you." Unfortunately those moments were far too few and far to far in between. Most of the time my reaction to the supposed jokes (the ones where the laugh track guy gave us the really bigger laughs than he did with ordinary lines) was "uh huh" with the occasional "that was supposed to be funny?" thrown in for good measure. As for the cast, setting aside Lithgow and Tambor for a moment, it's clear that Burns is the more experienced member of the two person regular supporting cast but I have to think that her job is going to be the most thankless one on the entire show, since I think we'll be seeing a lot more of her than we will of Jake Sandvig.
Which brings us to Lithgow and Tambor, and the basic concept of this show. I've watched Jeffrey Tambor off and on since he was on The Ropers and Hill Street Blues, and while I was one of the many who never watched arrested Development I know that Tambor is a very good straight man and can be quite funny. In this show though I think the producers have chosen the wrong path by making his character indecisive and at times almost timid. As for Lithgow, well he'd probably be better served if he used his indoor voice a bit more. The man seemed to be shouting through most of the episode. Maybe it's Lithgow's interpretation of his character's overwhelming - or overbearing - personality. Together the two men do seem to have a sort of chemistry together - they reminded me most of Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, or Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Of course that's only appropriate since deep down at the heart of the matter this series is nothing more than The Odd Couple with some cosmetic adjustments. Instead of everyday lives as fortyish divorced men, this show is about guys in their sixties living out some rather stupid adventures of the type that people usually get out of their way in their twenties. At its heart though this show is about two guys who are polar opposites forced by circumstances to live together. We've already seen Jeffrey cleaning up his apartment (after the party); if John turns out to be a slob the comparison will be complete.
The concept of this show could work if the writers and producers brought something sufficiently new to it but the notion of living life to the fullest while you can, just isn't enough for me. When you balance the small number of "pros" for this series with the very large number of "cons", I have to say that of the new sit-coms that I've seen (I confess to not seeing them all) this has to be the worst, which I'm sure is not a distinction the people involved were hoping for.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Set in the fictional town of Dillon Texas the primary focus of the series is on head football coach Eric Taylor and his players. Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler from Early Edition) is a man under a lot of pressure. The town lives and dies by the high school football team and Taylor has ascended to the job of head coach because he has worked with highly talented quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) literally since Street was a child playing Pee Wee football. In some ways Jason is like the son he and his wife Tami (Connie Britton best known for playing Nikki on Spin City) never had. The first episode tries to give viewers a sense of the pressures that everyone connected with the football team; the coaches, the players, their families, their girlfriends. The pressure is intense. The team is covered by the local television station - NBC of course - and in snippets from the local radio station the sole topic of conversation is the team. The players all have signs on the lawn of their homes telling the world - or at least Dillon Texas - the name of the High School football player who lives in that house. That includes the teams sophomore second string quarterback, a kid named Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) who is just happy to be on the team. They're almost like election signs but one gets the feeling that here elections are less important. We also get to know two other players, "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) the flamboyantly egotistical black running back who sees himself in the NFL making the big money, and the frequently drunk and possibly racist Fullback Tim Riggins who is Jason's best friend and knows that playing high school football is the high point of his life. For him there is no college or NFL career waiting just a dead-end job in Dillon. Jason's girlfriend is the cheerleader Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly), while Tim is having sex with Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) although she doesn't seem that particular about who she's with.. Everyone in town has an opinion and feels free to tell the coach and the players and the coach's wife exactly what the team needs to do and how he should run the team. In one scene Taylor meets with one of his coaches who has been scouting the opposing team. After reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the other team Taylor says with sort of resigned tone "What the heck. It's only football." The other coach responds "It's only football" and Taylor replies with the same attitude: "It's only football" and then they laugh the sort of laugh that lets you know that there's no "only" about football. In the way they say the words you know without doubt that there's no "only" about football in this place. In a scene at the opening of a new car dealership the town's female mayor tell Street that he's a nice young man but on the football field he has to destroy the other team and even suggests listening to Black Sabbath to "make him mean." It is made perfectly clear that these people will not accept failure.
The whole pilot episode leads up to the first football game of the season and Peter Berg does everything short of sending every potential viewer a telegram telling them that Jason Street will be injured and that Matt will have to step up to take over the team and bring them a stunning victory. And that's pretty much what happened, with Jason forced to tackle a defensive player to keep him from scoring a touchdown which will put the Panthers out of contention for the game. The stadium falls silent as Jason lies on the turf, not moving. Eventually he is strapped to a backboard and taken to hospital by ambulance. We see scenes of Jason being treated at hospital cut into scenes of the football game where after some initial problems (hitting one of his own players in the back of the helmet with a pass) Matt airs out a long pass to an open receiver on the last play of the game to score the winning touchdown. Then as the stadium falls silent all of the players on both teams gather on the 50 yard line to pray for Jason.
The second episode of the show spends most of its time dealing with character development - the character of the people and the character of the town. The episode starts the Sunday after the game in which Jason Street is injured. In the ramshackle Black church and the beautifully appointed White church, prayers are being said for Jason Street, but even in church the focus is on football and almost as important, the repercussions of Jason's injury. The only person not in church is Riggins who is working out his anger by shooting up road signs with a rifle. The story flies through the town that Matt had his eyes closed when he threw the winning touchdown. Things aren't improved any when, during practice Matt can't execute any of the plays. There's pressure from supporters, including former team members who flash their championship rings to remind anyone around that they were somebody. It is made absolutely clear to Taylor that this team needs to win championships - the town is nothing without a winning team - and Eric reveals his despair to his wife. He got the head coaching job because he was Jason's coach - in a very real sense Jason was Eric's meal ticket - and not only is Jason out for the season it, he is told that he probably will never walk again. In a scene in Jason's hotel room we see the depth of feeling that Eric feels for Jason, expressed in just two words, "Damn, son." There are other effects. Smash, having declared in the local diner the need for someone to step up to lead the team names himself as the logical leader, which angers Tim, who has never liked Smash and only partially because he's an egotist. Smash's declaration intrigues Tyra to the point where she lets Smash take her to his family's apartment where his mother and sisters walk in on him. However the person we find out the most about is Matt. Jason tells the coach that Matt is a different sort of kid from him - he draws and listens to Bob Dylan - and Tami convinces him that he can mould Matt in the same way that he has moulded Jason and other young players. With that he goes to the boy's home. Matt lives with his grandmother while his father is serving in the Army in Iraq. He seems a bit ashamed about living with her, to the point where he asks her to go into her room while the coach is at the house, but once she finds out who is at the door she's more excited than he is. In talking to Matt he admits that he's impressed with the way the boy is stepping up, working at a job in a fast food place to contribute, working hard at his studies, and trying to learn the football plays. He takes Matt to the football stadium and works on building his confidence before the next game. The episode ends just as the players are leaving the locker room for that game.
Based on the first two episodes of Friday Night Lights I have to say that it may be one of the gems of the new season. The show could easily have been done as a teen angst series of the type that was prevalent on the old WB - a One Tree Hill with football instead of Basketball. There's some of that but it is most assuredly not the dominant feature of the series. The adult characters are well presented with Kyle Chandler standing out in the equivalent of the part that Billy Bob Thornton played in the movie version of Friday Night Lights. Still what stands out more than anything else is the writing and the way the show is presented visually. The writing has a believable quality about it and for the most part refuses to ignore the realities of this sort of town. Berg, who is currently the only writer credited for the series, uses the Sorkin like trick of people talking over each other, and when circumstances warrant quickly cuts between conversations. The scene at the car dealership in the first episode cuts between alumni talking and asking questions of the coach, to the Mayor telling Jason about needing to get mean, to a woman of about 40 talking to Riggins about how the word "Blitz" sounds sexual, and how he could "blitz" and older woman (clearly implying herself). The outage that Smash's mother feels when he finds her son with a white girl like Tyra is palpable and her comment to Tyra - "I work in a family planning clinic, someplace you've probably never visited" - shows the disdain she feels for this piece of trash who could ruin her son's life. The presence of religion in this series is also palpable. Prayer is an accepted part of the way these people live their lives and no Supreme Court ruling is going to interfere with them praying for a win or for a fallen athlete. It isn't presented with any motive other than an acknowledgement that this is an important part of what holds this community together and in another way keeps it apart.
I also think that you have to take note of the way that the show is shot. Peter Berg directed the Pilot and his directing style seems to have been retained for the second episode. There are a lot of quick cuts and he uses the "shaky cam" to good effect. At times the episode feels as though someone is shooting a documentary about this town and their team. There are other times when he doesn't use the shaky cam technique, to give the feeling that this is a moment where a documentary crew wouldn't be shooting. The football sequences in the first episode are done nicely both in terms of how they're shot and how they're presented aurally. While we're seeing action on the field virtually all of the words we're hearing are coming from the radio announcers who are calling the game. The voices are actually those of University of Southern California football announcers Peter Arbogast and Paul McDonald. Occasionally the voice of the quarterback or the referee is heard, but there's no description of the plays from the coach. In fact the coach is almost never heard during the game until he Jason's injury and the need to get Matt into the game.
I want Friday Night Lights to be successful. I'm not a football fan. Like most people in Saskatchewan I bleed Green & White when the Roughriders play in the CFL, but I never been to one of their games or to a University of Saskatchewan Huskies game. As for high school I attended my first - and last - game in Grade 9 when it was pretty much required for "freshies" at Mount Royal Collegiate to walk to Gordie Howe Bowl and see the game. I'm one of those outsiders that Michener's character in Texas describes who doesn't "appreciate the total grandeur of that tradition." I'm not sure I have anything that I can really compare it to. I suppose the closest thing in my experience might be the way that small prairie town like Kindersley or Rosetown feel about their Junior Hockey players; kids who are one or two steps away from the NHL, steps most of them won't make. In watching Friday Night Lights the thing that kept repeating in my mind was the first verse of Bruce Springsteen's song "Glory Days". What this series has done so far is evoke a sense that for most of these young men these are their Glory Days; that while they may go to college, get good jobs, get married and have kids the best time of their lives will be the two or three years that they spent playing football for their town. Being able to convey that sense of excitement and undiscovered futility is something that most TV can't do. I love this series and hope that NBC will give it the time that it needs to find its audience. Just don't watch it expecting your average TV show about sports. This is more about the culture of a place and its people - football is just the catalyst.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
You've got to love it. The crunch of dry leaves under foot. That little nip in the air - somewhere (it was a comfortable 22 Celsius here today). Baseball playoffs have started - I remember a time when "started" also meant "almost finished" but that just shows how old a codger I'm getting to be. People in Toronto still think the Maple Leafs might win the Stanley Cup - oh wait they stopped believing that yesterday didn't they.
And of course Evil Network Weasels have stopped talking about how fabulous all of their shows are and how great their line up is, and have actually started cancelling shows, putting them on hiatus, and moving them - or combinations of all three. It used to be (another sign of my codgerdom) that networks would be civilized and wait until November to cancel a show and allow it to run its 13 weeks. These days shows get cancelled before the season's whole line up finishes debuting, and sometimes the shows that haven't debuted yet are the shows that are being cancelled. And of course the worst thing - well in a way - is that the Weasels who are cancelling the shows are the same ones who less than two months ago were telling us just how fabulous their coming fall season was.
Of course not everything in this batch of Short Takes. We also have the ever popular "Who does the PTC hate this week?" And there are a few other things I've managed to dredge up.
Farrah Fawcett: Farrah Fawcett has Colo-Rectal Cancer. This was posted on TVSquad.com on Thursday - the same day that it hit the mainstream media - but interestingly The Cancer Blog, which is a sister site of TVSquad.com posted the story the day before most of the media were aware of it. Farrah, who is 59, lost her older sister Dianne to Lung Cancer eight years ago. Fawcett has been an advocate for Cancer charities and research since then. She is currently undergoing radiation treatments preparatory to surgery and chemotherapy. I was never a huge fan of Farrah Fawcett's - during her time on Charlie's Angels I always preferred Jacklyn Smith to either Fawcett or Kate Jackson - however in the past year my family went through as scare when my mother was misdiagnosed with Colo-Rectal Cancer so I know a bit about the fear that this disease can provoke in both patients and family. Naturally our hopes and prayers are with Farrah as she prepares to confront this disease.
NBC Cancels Kidnapped: But they're waiting for ten more episodes to nail the coffin shut. The network will be moving the show, which had been dying a very public ratings death in the third hour of Wednesday, to Saturday nights for the remainder of the show's run, starting October 21. The network is allowing the show to wind up the kidnapping arc about the abduction of Leopold Cain, so that the few fans of the show will be able to see it through to a conclusion unlike what happened to the Fox series Reunion last year. The show will be replaced in its Wednesday time slot - which had been the long time home of Law & Order - by Dateline NBC. It's worth noting that this series was one of the shows moved in the massive shakeup that NBC made in their Fall Schedule in order to move Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip from Thursday's second hour to Monday's third hour. Kidnapped was originally scheduled to air on Tuesday nights in the third hour opposite ABC's Boston Legal and CBS's Smith. NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said at the time "We've enjoyed an extremely successful development season and are going to do what it takes to give each new series the strongest launch we can. Now that we've assessed the competitive landscape, we've scheduled our new shows in time periods where we believe they'll succeed and will be supporting them with robust marketing campaigns and the full resources of the network." That worked out real good. Too bad - I like this show and it had a great cast.
Speaking of Smith: That show has been pulled from the CBS line up effective immediately. Seven episodes out of the initial order of thirteen have been shot. The Smith website isn't accessible through the main CBS site anymore - the show has been pulled from both drop down menus on the site - and CFTR Radio in Toronto reports that the show has been cancelled and describes it as the first cancellation of the season. The show lost 26% of its audience between the first and third shows: first episode overnight ratings 7.8/12, 11 million viewers; third episode ratings 5.8/ 9, 8.43 million. It also dropped in the crucial Adult 18-49 demographic from 3.6/10 for the premiere to 2.8/8 for the third episode, a decline of 22%. Worst of all it was not retaining viewers from the preceding shows,NCIS (10.8/16; Viewers: 15.52 million; A18-49: 4.0/11 on October 3) and The Unit (8.5/13; Viewers: 13.17 million; A18-49:4.1/11). Those shows were in second and third place on the night respectively.
Foxy Moves: We already knew that Fox was putting The Happy Hour and Justice on early "pre-World Series month" hiatus but we now know what they're going to do with at least some of the shows that are in trouble. The Happy Hour is scheduled to return on November 2 along with 'Til Death. The shows will serve as lead ins for The O.C. which will have its debut on that night. As of October 23, Justice will now move to the second hour of Monday night following Prison Break and replacing Vanished which will move to the first hour of Friday nights starting on October 27. Last Friday a rerun of the pilot episode of Justice aired in the first hour and lost to Ghost Whisperer, Deal or No Deal, a repeat of the previous night's Grey's Anatomy and the CW's Friday Night Smackdown! - Friday is not a good night for Fox series! Also, Standoff will be swapping with House, moving to the first hour of Tuesday night (opposite NCIS and Friday Night Lights) while House moves to the second hour (opposite The Unit and Biggest Loser). This latter move had been pre-planned by the network and of the moves announced is probably the best of the lot.
The CW opts for migration: In a surprise move The CW network announced that it would be transferring its Monday night line up of Seventh Heaven and Runaway to Sunday night beginning October 15, and its Sunday comedy line up of Everybody Hates Chris, All Of Us, Girlfriends and The Game to Monday night starting October 9, where the shows come up against the CBS comedy line up. This move actually makes some sense if you think about it hard enough. In the past The WB did reasonably well with dramas on Sunday nights (UPN didn't program Sundays) and the two family oriented dramas would seem to be a good fit for that night. Seventh Heaven - previously the highest rated WB series will be going up against reality shows The Amazing Race, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, NBC's Sunday Night Football, and starting in November Fox's line up of The Simpsons and American Dad. Runaway which stars Donny Wahlberg and Leslie Hope will be up against Cold Case, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy and The War At Home as well as Football. Potentially this gives the CW a bit more of a chance in the second hour of Sunday.
PTC gets one right: Admittedly it's for all of the wrong reasons, but still.... In a statement before the FCC's Quadrennial Broadcast Media Ownership Review, held in Los Angeles PTC executive director (and soon to be President) Tim Winters linked "Indecent programming with media consolidation" according to a headline on the group's webpage. According to Mr. Winter's statement before the Commission "And since the Commission last dealt with the issue of media ownership three years ago, millions of Americans have filed formal complaints about broadcast indecency violations. All but a handful of those complaints reflect national network television broadcasts. With very few exceptions, network-owned television stations do not consider community decency standards." He added later in his statement, " When local programming decisions are prohibited by a remote corporate parent, the public interest is not served." (my emphasis) Interestingly this is a similar position to a group which could scarcely be more different from the PTC in what they want to see; the Centre For Creative Voices in Media, a group which often opposes the complaints filed by the "millions of Americans" who fill out the PTC's pre-made complaint letters. On September 13, the Centre's blog reported on a two year study supressed by the FCC that claimed that "locally owned stations produce more local news than those owned by media giants." According to the study "locally owned stations produced five-and-a-half minutes more local news in a half-hour newscast than their consolidated competitors - meaning 33 more hours of local news per year." In other words, "when local programming decisions are prohibited by a remote corporate parent, the public interest is not served." Speaking from a place where the majority of private English language stations are owned by two corporate entities - CTV and Canwest Global - I can't help but agree. News coverage, particularly in the smaller Saskatchewan cities has decreased as media ownership has become centralized in the two private networks.
Who does the PTC hate this week?: Besides media conglomeration the PTC is also mad at FedEx for sponsoring Medium, where "the lead character Allison, dreams about a man who has kidnapped and raped several teenage girls" and CSI where scenes " included a man with a biting fetish, men receiving S&M beatings from a dominatrix in a sex club, a grown man with a sexual desire to dress like and be treated as an infant and a woman making a sex video for her 15-year-old stepson." This was the message brought to the FedEx stockholders meeting by the head of the Memphis Tennessee chapter of the PTC, Kelli Turner on behalf of the Council.
This week's "Worst" show was NBC's Heroes. The PTC states that "Due to its violent and sexual content Heroes is not suited for children of any age. And as far as adults are concerned, if you are disturbed by graphic gory horror film, Heroes is probably not for you either." Their major objection was to the character of Niki Sanders: "When not performing as a webcam stripper, one of the show’s “heroes” uses her special powers to violently bludgeon her enemies to death." They then describe the scene in which Niki "begins to take off her clothes while the second hitman video tapes them. Suddenly, she changes her mind and says to the man “Screw you!” The hitman strikes Niki in the face and knocks her out. When Niki awakens she finds both men dead, one with a sharp object protruding from his neck and the other sprawled out the floor. Torture devices are shown hanging from the walls and blood is literally splattered everywhere." In an aside the PTC also objects to the scene where "Claire, the invincible high school cheerleader, experiments with her super power by putting her hand in a garbage disposal without experiencing any pain. When she removes her mangled extremity the camera zooms-in on the bloody injury which suddenly and inexplicably heals." Just for the record, NBC has announced that Heroes will be renewed for the whole year after only the second episode of the show.
Friday, October 06, 2006
No what I'm apologizing for this time is not exactly being timely in writing my reviews. I've been more than a bit exhausted lately which takes away from some of my writing time, and then there have been a couple of computer problems this week which meant that some other projects that I was working on "ceased to proceed" as the saying goes - usually after I'd written most of what I had to say but had saved little or nothing of it. I'm getting a handle on most of this stuff although the program that I use to do my bowling statistics is behaving in a maddening manner (it refuses to calculate handicaps for teams) but I'll tame it. Plus, in a rare occasion I will have this Monday to work on a review or two (it's Canadian Thanksgiving and the state of the bus system on a holiday in this city means I won't be bowling - I'll roll off instead). I've got an idea of what I want to do this weekend and beyond - whether I can do it or not is a whole other question.
Wish me luck!