Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Upfronts–Responses to Comments

To finally wind up the Upfront discussion I want to respond to some of the comments that were left in the various articles. The Upfront articles usually yield a number of comments here on the blog anyway, and some of them are pretty good, so let’s take a look.


Todd Mason wrote:
Well, thank goodness we have no fewer than two series imitating DEXTER coming this season (at least)...this one and SLICING AND DICING KEVIN BACON on Fox.

I know what you mean Todd. The only link I really see to Dexter is that the three shows all have serial killers, but I doubt that either of the two network shows would be on the air if it weren’t for Dexter so it’s less imitation than Network Weasel logic: it did okay on cable so it’s time to put it on broadcast. For the record, I think the FOX Kevin Bacon series – The Following – is likely to be the more successful one (assuming that either one is going to be successful, which I doubt). NBC’s mistake in my view is to tie their show to the Hannibal Lecter character. I think there’s a greater opportunity if the serial killer character isn’t known until he makes his first kill, which shouldn’t come in the first episode. We know what to expect from Hannibal Lecter from the beginning so the shock value of that first kill is minimized.

The Kevin Bacon series reminds me more of Criminal Minds but with an overriding mytharc aspect. The other difference is that while the characters on Criminal Minds operate as a team, the characters on The Following are more antagonistic to each other, or at least to the Kevin Bacon character. Let’s just say that Criminal Minds is the DC Comics version of the concept while The Following is the Marvel Comics version.

Next Roger Owen Green wrote:
I figured Who Do You Think You Are would stick. It's the one show I watch with my 8 y.o.

I really hoped that Who Do You Think You Are would stick as well. Initially I didn’t think it was a show that an American commercial network would embrace, and that it really wasn’t suited to commercial TV. Still I think that it’s loss, combined with the “quality” of the reality shows that NBC is offering, is a bit of a black eye for the network.

Todd Mason responded to Roger’s comment:
Well, WHO DO YOU THINK is pretty much the same series as PBS's Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr....which I hope Canadians might have access to, even if mostly on border stations (haven't doublechecked to see if CBC or anyone else has picked it up, or if TV Ontario and/or SCN will be carrying it if they haven't yet).

The PBS show might be available in some areas but I don’t think it was seen where I live. It doesn’t appear on the list of shows on the two PBS stations available from Shaw Cable – WTVS in Detroit and KSPS in Spokane – but those lists might be out of date. In recent years I haven’t been watching that much on PBS in part because of the interminable Pledge Weeks where the programming more closely resembled an all infomercial/self-help channel than educational television.

SCN is more than a bit of a sore subject with me. In 2010 the provincial government decided to shut down SCN – the Saskatchewan Communications Network – because of “low ratings,” and to save money (in a booming resource economy). A private company called Bluepoint Investments bought the network at the eleventh hour. The new owners planned to offer commercial programming in the prime time period and include advertising. They even got simsub rights for their programming that are only granted to broadcast stations. Earlier this year Bluepoint announced the sale of SCN to Rogers Communications, the owner of Citytv. The station will be rebranded as “Citytv Saskatchewan” and while Rogers claims they won’t seek alteration in the current license, which included a commercial free educational block from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. I’m willing to bet that won’t last that long. The only real educational networks left in Canada are TV Ontario and the Knowledge Network in BC.


Linda wrote:
When they advertised they were doing an American version of Sherlock I said, "I bet Watson is a woman." Bingo! Of course this isn't a new concept; They Might Be Giants and The Return of the World's Greatest Detective both used the idea. And wasn't there a children's book takeoff on Holmes where the main boy character's "Watson" was a girl?

There probably was, though I’m not enough of a Holmes aficionado to know the title or the details. Making Watson a woman is something an American network, and particularly CBS, would do to create “unresolved sexual tension” (UST). There was a reporter in a Canadian newspaper who claimed that most CBS procedurals had a male-female relationship that could be seen as UST. It wasn’t well-developed and some of the cases of UST were fairly absurd (he mentioned Mac Taylor and Jo Danville on CSI: New York which was something I never saw until he stated it, and don’t see it as being particularly obvious since he mentioned it).

At the time I commented on Linda’s comment and mentioned that the network was also attempting to avoid any charges that the Holmes-male Watson relationship might be seen by some as being a sexual one. Todd Mason jumped on this statement of mine:
Well, of course, today in the Real US and environs, increasingly we see extended-period same-gender roommates...and, increasingly among the young, less worry about homosexuality. (Hell, I live platonically with a woman who owns the house.)
And tell me Todd, do you feel any Unresolved Sexual Tension? Because Television tells us both of you should be expected to be filled to the brim with UST. Obviously you’re right about it being common in real life but these are Network Weasels we’re talking about here, and as a group I think they tend to be conservative on a thing like that, trying as much as possible to avoid controversy. I recently heard Gary Marshall taking about The Odd Couple, and the network weasels of the day were constantly sending him notes telling him (demanding really) to assert the character’s heterosexuality by having more women on the show in a romantic context. I also know that the Doyle Estate sent a letter to Guy Ritchie ordering him not to have anything in his second (and presumably subsequent) Holmes film that would suggest a homosexual relationship between Holmes and Watson. It wasn’t an issue for Doyle or for a couple of generations of stage film and TV producers, but the Doyle Estate made it an issue. I can definitely see the network weasels at CBS saying “why borrow trouble. Changing Watson’s gender avoids any implications and gives us unresolved sexual tension. It’s a win-win answer.”

Todd continues:
Even going back to the '60s, Keith Robertson's YA novels about Henry Reed and Midge Glass employed a male-female Holmes/Watson dynamic (and essentially a platonic one), even though Reed and Glass were more evenly matched (as has also been the post-Doyle very least, the latter-day Watson tends to be the one to pull the Holmes's iron out of some fires he's too unconventional/unconcerned to care about).

Well the Robertson novels aren’t specifically Holmes and Watson. Inspiration is different from keeping the characters but changing their genders. The relationship may be similar but the characters aren’t them. House and Wilson were inspired by Holmes and Watson, but they weren’t the characters in the same way that the characters in Elementary are clearly intended to be.
The male-female Holmes dynamic where it’s not actually Sherlock Holmes and Joan H. Watson seems to be quite common. I actually think that the relationship between Patrick Jane and Theresa Lisbon on The Mentalist is a Holmes and Watson style relationship with a man and a woman as lead characters. And yes, I am detecting UST showing up increasingly in that relationship, particularly in the season finale. (One day I’m going to do a post on the comparisons between the Holmes canon and The Mentalist,)

The Season Night By Night

Ben wrote:
I can see why you'd call Revolution a "dead show walking." It looks very reminiscent of shows like The Event and FlashForward, shows that wanted to be the next Lost but made the mistake of jumping right into conspiracies without building interest in the characters.
Well my assessment of Revolution as a “dead show walking” wasn’t entirely based on the premise though that was a contributing factor. Among the factors is the fact that it’s going up against two established shows – Castle and Hawaii Five-0 – and the fact that of the three Revolution has possibly the weakest lead-in with The Voice. Then you can add on the nature of the show itself; a future world without electricity, a place largely reduced if not to the stone age then to an agrarian society far less advanced than it was the last time we didn’t use electricity around 1850 (the first practical electric motors were developed in the 1850s). I’m not convinced that the mass audience is ready for that kind of a world even if they take the time, and don’t jump into the conspiracies right away – which I suspect they will. The public didn’t buy into a show like Kings (which I actually grew to like over time, so much so that I bought the DVDs) or Jericho. I’m not convinced that when given the choice between this show and Castle’s “cop and writer solving crimes in a serio-comic romantic manner” or Hawaii Five-0’s “elite cops in paradise” storylines that they’ll take the time to let Revolution build.

I'd hesitate to write it off, though. One of the creators is JJ Abrams, who co-created Lost itself, even though he left it for others to flesh out. And the other creator is Eric Kripke, who's kept Supernatural going for years. If both of them do what they do well on this show, and if they hire writers who can create a good hour of TV, and if the network gives them space to do all this, then the show has a fighting chance. Granted, that's a lot of ifs, but I'm withholding judgment until the show debuts.

It is a lot of ifs. Your really need to look at the track record, as my relative who handicaps horses would say. Eric Kripke’s only real success has been Supernatural, and that’s a series that probably wouldn’t have received a second season on a network that wasn’t The CW. On the other hand he was also responsible for the failed attempt to make a series of Tarzan, which performed so dismally that even the old WB wouldn’t keep it on the air. And while I’m a bit more charitable about JJ Abrams than Todd Mason (see the next response), I would like to point out that his most recent series. Alcatraz, was largely a failure, and that most networks would have ended Fringe a couple of years ago. And we probably shouldn’t mention Undercovers. By most network standards, most of what Abrams has done would be regarded as failures. Of the “ifs” that you mention maybe the biggest is “if the network gives them space to do this.” Even dealing with NBC – a network that seems increasingly desperate and/or resigned to their fate – I’m not sure the network will be willing to “give them the space” if the standards that they use to measure success or failure (the ratings and particularly the 18-49 ratings) aren’t met. After looking at the clips I think the show looks intriguing but that it probably isn’t the sort of thing mainstream, broadcast TV viewers would go to en masse. It would find a niche on SyFy or maybe the USA Network but I don’t see it working on a broadcast network.

Todd Mason responded to Ben:
I really don't like Abrams's work, and it should be noted that he's had exactly one sustained television success, that in collaboration with a number of folks out of Chris Carter and Joss Whedon's productions (guys who may have had only one or two sustained series respectively, but they were frankly much better series for at least most of their runs, and the Carter and Whedon productions strangled in their cribs were also more interesting than the Abrams misfires...or than SUPERNATURAL).

Well as I said to Ben, I’m a bit more charitable about JJ Abrams than you are. After all, before Lost he was also the the Executive Producer and writer behind Felicity, and Alias, and he’s currently got a second season for Person Of Interest on CBS. Of course he was also the man behind What About Brian, and Six Degrees and Undercovers and Alcatraz And then there’s Fringe (of which I’m a huge fan) which seems to have survived as long as it has because apparently Kevin Reilly loves the show (or Rupert Murdoch wants to keep his ex-wife’s namesake niece employed – that would be Anna Torv). I do tend to agree with you as regards the “failures” of Carter and Whedon – the shows you describe as having been “strangled in their cribs.” A Millenium or a Firefly is more interesting to me than most of Abrams’ failures and some of his successes.

The Video Trailers

Zoey wrote:
I have to say there isn't too much on television that I look forward to these days. I've been watching for a new favorite show but just haven't had that hit yet.

I have favourite, or at least preferred, shows on most night, but I’m pretty easy to please. Don’t put me asleep, don’t give me a headache, and for heavens sake don’t be a talent show and I’ll give you a try – if I like what I see I’ll stick like a barnacle. That’s how I was with The Amazing Race and despite stumbles I’m still the show’s biggest fan. Well at least one of them.

Turning to the list of the coming season’s shows, there aren’t that many that really reach out and grab me the way that The Amazing Race did eleven years ago, or CSI and The West Wing did a few years before that. I don’t see anything on this year’s slate from ABC that will grab me like Revenge or Once Upon A Time did last season. CBS has one show that I’m really looking forward to (Vegas), two shows that have the potential to hold my interest (Partners and Elementary), and Made In New Jersey that doesn’t do a thing for me. What I’ve seen from FOX, in terms of clips, doesn’t work for me. On NBC, out of the huge roster that they put out there, the only shows that do anything for me are The New Normal and Chicago Fire. And right now the only thing that really did anything for me on The CW is Arrow. I don’t know what that says about the shows or me. Maybe my attraction to shows like Vegas, Chicago Fire and Arrow says more about me and my impending geezerhood (I’ll be 56 in August) than it does about the shows. I want someone in the hierarchy of the networks to take the sort of risks that gave us CSI, NYPD Blue, The West Wing, and yes Survivor. Unfortunately I don’t think the networks as a group feel secure enough to try something truly radical and daring.

I’ve got a couple of other things to take care of in the next week or so – including working up a poll, and then I’m going to try another set of summer recaps – because my attempt to recap Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip last summer went so well. This year’s recap will be of a show that will probably divide my readers. It will be…….

revealed to you when I write the first post.


Roger Owen Green said...

Actually, I have seen Finding Your Roots. The ep I last saw involved three different performers with a less clear narrative than WDYTYA?, swinging from one actor's life to another.

Linda said...

UST? For Holmes and Watson? Barf-o-matic.

Brent McKee said...

Linda I'm inclined to agree but there are two things you have to note: 1)this is American TV, and 2) this is CBS. Unresolved sexual tension is what American TV thrives on, and arguably CBS is the king of UST, or so at least one TV critic claims.

Brent McKee said...

Roger: That's the thing I liked about "Who Do You Think You Are" as well. The focus on one person and at least the impression that the celebrities were on a journey of discovery on their own (though I'm betting that the real genealogical work was done between the time they signed up for the show and when shooting started by Associate Producers).

There was a similar Canadian show to what "Finding Your Roots" sounds like called "Ancestors In The Attic" and it didn't really grab me because the person whose ancestry was being examined really wasn't a part of the process. "Who Do You Think You Are?" felt more as though the stars of each episode were involved in the process.