Thursday, January 03, 2008

On the Ninth Day Of Christmas

On the ninth day of Christmas my true loved (Television) gave to me – nine shows to look forward to?! (Man you can tell that I'm reaching now!)

Okay, so we're in the middle of a strike which seems like a war to the death, and it's not helped by guys like Jimmy Kimmel who on his first show back came across like that androgynous "Britney" lover (was that a guy? A girl? Did it know? Do I care? – Yeah, so maybe the answer to that last one was NO! but I'm just saying.). In case you didn't see his show Kimmel was upset that the WGA was picketing Conan and Jay's studios (no mention of his show, which may say a whole lot) and the president of the Screen Actors Guild (Alan Rosenberg though Kimmel didn't bother to mention him by name) had called on his members not to appear on their shows. It was so unfair! They don't understand; Jay had been out on the lines, Jay paid his staff when they were out and Conan did too! And those actors are working on movies! Those movies have writers! Actors have to cross picket lines to work on those movies. They should go on Dave and Conan's shows! It's so unfair! Okay, so Kimmel wasn't as crazed as that made it sound (though it would have made a great comedy bit; course that would have required writers because I don't think Jimmy's good enough to figure that one out on his own) but he clearly doesn't get it. Movie projects currently shooting were completed before the strike began. And painful though it may be to the actors their contract doesn't have a clause that says that they aren't allowed to cross picket lines so if their movie is shooting they are contractually obligated – unlike talk show hosts let alone talks show guests – to go to work.

Anyway, we are in this strike to the death but that doesn't mean that there aren't new shows – it just means that a lot of them are going to be a steaming pile of crap. Here are just nine of the shows that we have to look forward to in next four months.

First up there's Celebrity Apprentice (debuts January 3, 2008). The Apprentice, but with famous people! Because you know you've always wanted to see famous people do product placement while raising money for charity. Of course the definition of famous and celebrity is in flux on this one. I mean look at this star studded cast list:

  • Gene Simmons of Kiss (but more recently playing straight man to Shannon Tweed and their kids in Gene Simmons' Family Jewels).
  • Stephen Baldwin (saner than his brother Daniel but not as stable as Alec or Billy – and no relation to Adam).
  • Lennox Lewis, the last undefeated heavyweight boxing champion of the world (and a darn smart fellow if for no other reason than because he quit while he was ahead and hasn't made any noises about coming back).
  • Trace Adkins, country singer.
  • Piers Morgan, newspaper man, talent judge (?) on America's Got Talent (which would have been much better in this time slot than bringing Trump back).
  • Tito Ortiz, Ultimate Fighting champ (apparently there's real money in that).
  • Vincent Pastore, Big Pussy on The Sopranos (the who man found training for Dancing With The Stars to be too strenuous).
  • Carol Alt, model (and "Hockey Annie" – she was married to Ron Greschner and is now in a "commited relationship" with Alexi Yashin).
  • Nadia Commenici, Olympic gymnast (Bart Conner's most recent "perfect 10," sorry but I can't say anything snarky about the lady).
  • Tiffany Fallon, former Playboy Playmate of the Year (married to Joe Don Rooney of Rascal Flats and expecting a baby in May – she also gets a pass on the snarky).
  • Marilu Henner, actress (and a redheaded dancer – I've been in love with her for decades).
  • Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, former Apprentice contestant (Trump is obviously into recycling).

Well, I suppose it's something new to watch while waiting the return of Lost and you can bet there'll be much fun to be had watching egos clashing, but can I really recommend it? Nah.

Passing over the revival of American Gladiators (though admit it, you'll be watching if only because you watched as a kid) we come to Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Anne. In which Dancing With The Stars judges Carrie Anne Inaba (with whom I am also in love – I do like dancers) and Bruno Tonioli form dance teams (there are dance teams?) made up of people who can sing and dance. Then the teams compete head to head in various forms of dance each week, with the losing team captain (Bruno or Carrie Anne) forced to cut a member of their team. Naturally the loser is determined by viewer voting. Needless to say this reality-competition show is not an original idea. Production company BBC Worldwide is adapting a BBC show called DanceX which featured dance teams put together by Tonioli and fellow Strictly Come Dancing (the British inspiration for Dancing with the Stars) judge Arlene Phillips. I am so glad this airs on my bowling night so I can probably avoid it.

Something I don't want to avoid is Commanche Moon, what is being described as the final chapter in Larry McMurtry's Lonsome Dove saga (chronologically it's the second story in the series but it was the most recently written). Starring Karl Urban as Woodrow Call and Steve Zahn as Gus McCrae, the cast also includes Val Kilmer, Wes Studi and Adam Beach. The mini-series airs over three nights, January 13, 15 and 16 on CBS. A definite must see as far as I'm concerned.

Cashmere Mafia on ABC debuts on January 6th before moving to its regular Wednesday time slot. This is yet another one of ABC's "relationship" series, focussing on the lives and loves (I actually typed "lives and lovers" there, which when I think of it is probably equally valid) of four "ambitious and sexy" women who have been friends since business school. The show has an attractive cast with Lucy Liu, Bonnie Sommerville, Miranda Otto, and Francis O'Connor, and it was created by Darren Starr, who produced – among other things – Sex And The City, a show which this bears more than a slight resemblance to. You know minus the nudity and the extremely salty language, because after all this is broadcast TV. For me the problem is that ABC in particular has put out a lot of shows in this vein over the past couple of years – they apparently have a stated policy against new "procedurals" which has mostly held (if you don't count Women's Murder Club as a procedural which I'm kind of undecided about) which is fine if the show works like Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives, and even Men In Trees. Trouble is you keep getting shows like October Road and Big Shots which don't work. I suspect that Cashmere Mafia will be closer to Big Shots than Sex And The City in terms of how well the audience takes to it.

And speaking of Sex And The City the author of the novel on which that show was based is back with another novel that has been turned into a TV series. Lipstick Jungle debuts on February 7th on NBC and is the adventures of Wendy, Nico and Victory (played by Brooke Shields, Kim Raver, and Lindsay Price respectively) who are three New York's "50 most powerful women" (as defined by the New York Post). Why do I get the sense that Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle will be about as interchangeable as the words in their names, and probably about as successful.

ABC has an lawyer series called Eli Stone which will air on Thursdays' third hour following Lost! starting on January 31st. The show has an excellent cast which includes British actor Jonny Lee Miller, Victor Garber, and Natasha Henstridge. Even with this cast I don't have much confidence in this one based entirely on the description given in the show's Wikipedia entry: "Co-written by Marc Guggenheim and Greg Berlanti, the series was described by Berlanti in Variety magazine as 'a Field of Dreams-type drama set in a law firm where a thirty-something attorney begins having larger-than-life visions that compel him to do out-of-the-ordinary things.' Pop Star George Michael will also appear on the show and each episode will be named after a song of his." Yeah, I'm sure the American public would stream to that if there weren't for the writers' strike ...or even with the WGA strike.

FOX may be the network best set up for this strike if only because they've been edging away from the traditional season format for a while with shows being deliberately saved for the second half of the traditional season. And this year scripted shows probably won't get that "two episodes and replaced with a reality series" treatment that has been the standard from FOX in previous years (remember Drive). They'll be stringing new series debuts out over the next four months, presumably based on the number of episodes they were able to get written before the strike. The first of the new dramatic series to debut is also one of the most anticipated, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles which brings the already incredibly tangled Terminator movie franchise to TV. It debuts on January 13th before moving to its permanent time Monday time on January 14th. In all honesty I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the Terminator franchise, although I really liked the first film as one of the great "chase" movies of all times. The trouble is that each sequel makes the timeline more convoluted. Still this one stars Summer Glau from Firefly as "Cameron," John Connor's latest Terminator bodyguard. Playing River Tam on Firefly is definite proof of her ass-kicking credentials. Still I'm more than a little dubious of how this show is going to come together.

Another FOX series that I'm interested in is New Amsterdam which debuts on February 22nd. The series was originally on the FOX Fall Schedule but was pull just before it was to premiere. This was seen by some as a sign that the show might not be very good. This sense was heightened when the network shut down production on the series after seven episodes were completed although they indicated that the decision could be reversed, though that seemed highly unlikely to observers. The premise sounds vaguely promising; a 17th Century Dutch soldier granted immortal life (or at least until he found his "true love") in return for saving the life of a female Native American shaman. He lives his life today as a police detective but when he suffers a heart attack he realises that his "true love" is living right now. The premise seems to have elements of Highlander mixed with vampire shows like Forever Knight, Angel, and Moonlight. It sound like it could be interesting. If anything the fact that FOX executives pulled the plug on it after seven episodes makes it seem even more attractive; these are after all the people who cancelled Firefly, John Doe, Wonderfalls, Tru Calling and Drive but kept The War At Home on for two seasons.

The fact that FOX has a number of scripted series waiting to debut doesn't mean they don't also have a well stocked supply of "unscripted" series. They wouldn't be FOX if they didn't. Besides the juggernaut that is American Idol (debuting January 15th and 16th) the big new show is The Moment Of Truth. Hosted by Mark L. Wahlberg it is based on a British show (of course) hosted by Jerry Springer! Before the show contestants are hooked up to a polygraph machine and asked between 50 and 70 questions. Then on the show itself the contestants are again asked 21 of the questions they had previously answered which the player must answer honestly, as determined by the polygraph results. The questions become increasingly personal the more that are asked. One "lie" and the player walks away with nothing, but if they answer all 21 questions correctly they can win $500,000. In other words if the polygraph detected a lie (not necessarily the same thing as actually lying, given the reliability of polygraph machines) and you gave the same answer to a question on the show, you would lose. I'm not sure about this one. I suppose it could work, depending on the questions, given society's fascination with the sleazier side of life, but part of me can't imagine them asking that sort of question. And part of me is glad of that.

So there you are, nine of many shows that you can watch – or not watch – this spring while waiting for this accursed strike to either end or expand.

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