Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Streaming Boxes–A Biased Overview

I should start by stating a few things that should really disqualify me from writing about this subject, but really when has this ever stopped anyone. I have a third generation Apple TV. I don’t have any of the other devices that I’m going to mention and I have very limited exposure to the fourth generation Apple TV (I asked a guy at an authorized Apple store a couple of questions about it but didn’t get to play with it extensively) and the Roku devices. Another big thing is that I’m a Canadian. If you don’t think that has a lot of implications, then you are in for a learning experience. It restricts the hardware that’s available, the services that you can get and even the programming that is available on many of those services. I intend to discuss services and the differences between Canada and the US, and vent my spleen a bit about the way Canadian TV is set up, in another article.

So let’s start with hardware. What I’m discussing here are set top boxes (though with flat screen TV’s no one can actually put any of these on the top of the TV set) that stream video from Internet providers generally using Wi-Fi. In Canada you basically have three companies to choose from: AppleTV, Roku, and Google. Amazon doesn’t sell its Fire TV (or the Fire tablet for that matter) in Canada and doesn’t offer the Amazon Video service in Canada. Western Digital also sells the WD TV Live product here but it is primarily a device for streaming video from your computer to your TV, and has limited connectivity to Internet sites. It doesn’t do what the devices I’m focussing on do.

Here’s what’s on offer in Canada (prices are in Canadian Dollars, from Best Buy Canada):
  • Apple TV 3rd Generation – $89.99
  • Apple TV 4th Generation 32 GB – $199.99
  • Apple TV 4th Generation 64 GB – $269.99

  • Roku HDMI Streaming Stick – $59.99
  • Roku 1 Streaming Media Player – $59.99
  • Roku 2 Streaming Media Player – $79.99
  • Roku 3 Streaming Media Player – $109.99

  • Chromecast 1st Generation – $39.00 (online only)
  • Chromecast 2nd Generation – $45.00

Let’s start up with the Chromecasts and the Roku Stick (Amazon has it’s own contender in this field the Fire Stick). Their big advantage is portability. You could easily keep one in your luggage when you travel without having to loose any item, although with the Roku Stick you need to take its remote too. The Roku and the first generation Chromecast look like USB keys, albeit a bit larger. They plug into an open HDMI port on your TV so if your TV doesn’t have HDMI you’re out of luck (and should probably get a new TV) with one of these devices. The second Generation Chromecast looks a bit like a smaller than regulation hockey puck on a leash, which is in fact a short cable plugging into the HDMI port. HDMI ports aren’t powered so they need to get power. All three can draw power from the TV’s USB port (if it has one) using a detachable USB cable which can also plug into an adapter to plug into a wall or power strip.

That is where the similarity ends. The Roku Stick comes with a remote and has the capacity to store apps for services like Netflix onboard. In short it sort of acts the other Roku Media players in a much smaller package. Although it is also possible to use your phone as remote, it’s more cumbersome than using the Stick’s own remote. The process with the Chromecast is far different. Your phone is not only your only remote, but it is an essential part of the process. If a service has a phone app then you can use that to select programming and then, if the app is compatible you can tap an icon to send that information to the Chromecast via Wi-Fi. You can also “cast” material that doesn’t directly support Chromecast onto the device using your phone, and can even mirror what you are doing on your phone – browsing a webpage, listening to music, playing a game etc. – although there can be lag problems with game play.

The Chromecast seems like a great device from what I’ve been able to find out, but if what you want to do is watch TV with a familiar interface, either because you’ve got a Roku (or even an Apple TV) at home, or you just want something that is relatively simple to use, you are probably best to go with the Roku Stick.

Turning now to the set top boxes, we should start with the Rokus. Roku has done a very interesting and important thing with this device. Each version fills a particular niche. The Roku 1 works for older TVs; it has composite as well as HDMI connections to the TV, supports analog audio, and works with TVs with 480p, 480i, 720p and 1080p resolution. So if your TV doesn`t have HDMI (like my old CRT in the dining room) you can use the wired connections on this without problems. The current Roku 2 does 720p and 1080p, does not have analog audio of any sort, and only offers an IR remote. The Roku 3 does most of the same things as the Roku 2 but has an analog audio output on the remote through headphones that plug into the remote and allows users to use “WiFi Direct” (basically any device using WiFi including your phone, tablet or – presumably – your laptop) to control the box. The Roku 4, introduced in October 2015 but not offered at Best Buy Canada, supports 4K TVs, offers an optical audio output on the box, and has voice search.

The competition in this field is the Apple TV. The 3rd Generation of the Apple TV (which I own) has an HDMI and Optical Audio output. It supports TVs with 720p and 1080p resolution although the product details section at Best Buy claims it can do 480p. There’s no option to control the box with a wireless device like a phone. The 4th Generation Apple TV drops the Optical Audio output and supports 720p and 1080p resolution, but to the surprise of many does not support 4K. The 4th Generation remote has the standard buttons but also has a touch screen and some voice commands using Siri. You can, for example, tell Siri what sort of movies you want to see, and it will report back movies that fit your search…on some services that support Siri. You can then refine the search by naming a specific star or director etc. There are some other tricks like skipping forward or back by telling Siri how far ahead or back you want to go. Another trick is that by saying “What did he/she say?” Siri will skip back 30 seconds and put up close captioning of the dialog in that particular scene. This is some of the stuff that you can do with the 4th Generation Apple TV that you can’t do with the 3rd Generation device or on the Roku boxes.

Of course what makes these boxes isn’t the hardware, it’s the content. In a very real way “content is king” with all of these devices and that’s where the difference between the United States and Canada comes into play. There are something like 63 to 66 services available to American users of the 3rd Generation Apple TV and only about 33 available to Canadians, and two of those are only available to Canadians. It is possible to get around these restrictions using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), but I’ve been given to understand that at least some of those services are cracking down on customers who use a VPN for that purpose.

Of course, even if you do use a VPN in Canada to get channels available in the United States, you’d probably still see all of the available streaming services. Slightly under a third of the services in the U.S. require you to subscribe to cable channel and in some cases not all cable companies are support Apple TV for specific services. While the number of streaming services available on the Roku is greater (one commenter to an article I used to research this piece commented “63 apps? That's it? Rook (sic) has hundreds and Apple's answer is 63 apps?”) a number of those apps will also have restrictions requiring you to have the cable TV version of the service. A number of the other services require some form of monthly subscription. In some cases – notably HBO Now – this is a “good thing” as it allows you to access premium content without having to have HBO on cable. Of course the price of HBO (in Canada at least) is about $18.00 (Canadian) but it’s the principle of the thing I suppose.

The complaint of the commenter I mentioned, that the 3rd Generation Apple TV had only 63 apps while his Roku box had hundreds is is negated by the 4th Generation Apple TV. There are now hundreds if not thousands of apps available for the new Apple TV. And while most of those are games (and most of those games are of the sort that you play on an iPhone or iPad rather than on a full console) it does represent a major sea change for the Apple TV. On the 3rd Generation Apple TV the only way you could watch material from Leo Laporte’s TWiT network was on the Apple TV’s podcast app. On the new Apple TV there are at least four TWiT apps and one of them is even free (the other three are $0.99). And there are at least four apps from Canadian media companies in addition to Shomi and Crave: CBC News, The National Film Board, the Weather Network, and Sportsnet.

Of course the biggest argument for buying any version of the Apple TV is that it is the only streaming box that includes iTunes, and specifically movie and TV series purchase or rental from Apples iTunes store. There’s also the Apple Music presumably including Beats 1 radio, although this hasn’t been offered to me on my 3rd Generation Apple TV (because I’m Canadian?) There is something to be said for owning content such as a copy of a movie even in these days of streaming media and services. Movies appear on Netflix but they also disappear, and there are certainly things that rarely appear on the streaming services that I can watch (I’m thinking older movies, like from the 1960s and before, and stuff shot in black & white; you won’t find the classic John Wayne movie Red River on Netflix) that are available for sale or rent from Apple.

When most reviewers are asked which streaming device to buy, they usually come down strong on the side of the Roku box in some version. I don’t necessarily think that they’re wrong, in spite of the fact that I own a 3rd Generation Apple TV. I won my Apple TV in a machine at the local mall, and even when I factor in all of the money that I had spent over the previous months to win it, it was still less than the current price of the box, let alone the price at the time ($109). At the time that I won my Apple TV I was actively looking at set top boxes as my next purchase after the soundbar that I was close to getting. I was leaning towards the Roku 3 based on everything that I had heard about the two devices. If I were paying full price and the choice was between the Roku 3 and the 3rd Generation Apple TV, I think that even though the Apple TV is about $40 cheaper I might go with the Roku 3 because of the ability to customize the experience. However, even though the 4th Generation Apple TV is about $90 more than the Roku 3 I’m not totally sure that I wouldn’t have waited a bit and spend the extra money.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

First Cancellation–Wicked City

Wicked_City_ABCABC has announced that they will be pulling their new series Wicked City after three episodes. For now it will be replaced by reruns of reality series Shark Tank which had held down the time slot while the network waited for the show to debut. Yawn

This makes the series, about a kinky serial killer and his lover set in Los Angeles in the 1980s, the first new series of the 2015-16 to actually be cancelled. The cancellation date of November 13 is the latest date for a cancellation in recent years.

But is it really?

There’s no argument that Wicked City is the first series to leave the air this season and the show that has left the air quickest so far this year (3 episodes), but a number of series have had their series orders reduced. These include FOX’s Minority Report, ABC’s Blood & Oil, and NBC’s The Player and Truth Be Told. With the exception of The Player these shows have had their orders reduced from 13 to 10 episodes (The Player’s order was cut to 9 episodes). Aren’t these effectively cancellations, which would mean that these shows were cancelled before Wicked City?

Well I think that maybe an argument could be made along those lines. I suspect that the networks have definite reasons for reducing orders and letting the shows run out their abbreviated orders rather than being pulled outright in the way that Wicked City was.

TV.Com did an article called 6 Reasons Why Networks Are Trimming Orders Instead of Canceling Shows. The writer lists reasons why he thinks that the networks have opted to trim orders. I think that some (but not all) of what he says has some validity. The six reasons, with on interpretation of what I believe he’s saying are:
  1. Face Saving for Networks: Image is everything for the networks and “trimming the order” for a show “sounds” better than saying outright that the show is cancelled.
  2. Shows Finish On Their Own Terms: Trimming the order gives the creative team the ability to craft a series finale rather than having the show just end, or worse end with a cliff-hanger.
  3. The Bridges Remain Unburned: According to the writer, there’s a power shift going on between networks and creators so that “playing nice” – which presumably means not cancelling a show outright – makes more sense for the networks because “you never know who’s going to be worthy of a second chance.
  4. Life (and Money) After Death in Streaming: Basically the idea that even a failed show like Minority Report can have life after leaving the broadcast network – and can generate revenue for the network – on a streaming service like Netflix or Crackle, or some other site that “come up with funny names and pay exorbitant amounts of money for streaming rights to shows.” But they won’t do that if the show only had a couple of episodes before being canned.
  5. The Bench is Shallow: There aren’t the reserves of new shows that can be brought in to fill in the blank spot where a cancelled show used to be – which presumably is why Wicked City is being replaced by reruns of Shark Tank instead of episodes of something new – because those shows are earmarked for hiatus periods of running shows, or to replace short-run shows.The irony is that Wicked City was meant to be a mid-season show, which may indicate that the bench is not only shallow but weak.
  6. Networks Have Accepted the Grim Realities of Their Futures: For this I’m going to have to run nearly his entire reasoning, so please excuse the profanities – they’re his not mine, although my opinion of the logic in this one can be described with a word he uses in this explanation (you can guess which one): Like a single man approaching his 40s and eating Hot Pockets for dinner for the third night in a row, sometimes it's easier for networks to accept that things are just how they are and it's pointless to try harder. This is the new paradigm, and networks understand they're dinosaurs and the chances of getting a huge hit that can float a network are slimmer and slimmer with each day that passes. Yeah, this is a pessimistic view of things, but it's also the truth. You can only throw so much shit at a wall to see if it sticks before you run out of shit and your arm gets tired. More important for networks right now is to try to devise alternate ways of competing with the expanding TV market rather than spending all the money it takes to find the next Empire. 

So I think he may have some valid points with some of his reasons, specifically (and in order) numbers 5, 2, 3, and 4. The big reason is that “the bench is shallow” but more importantly is that it is rare for a new replacement series to earn ratings that are better than the ratings that the show it is replacing earned. As it is, shows starting in January or later often face an uphill struggle to gain acceptance. Empire, which debuted in January 2015, is a rare exception.

I’d like to offer a couple of options of my own that may have some validity.
  1. Trimming the Order is a Flexible Response: Put simply, trimming the order for a show allows the network to reverse or at least modify their decision as to the fate of a show. If, for example, the people who watched Thursday Night Football decided that they’d rather watch The Player on NBC than CBS’s Elementary (or ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder) once football left CBS, a trimmed order would allow the network to react to the sudden upswing in viewers. Not that a sudden increase in audience numbers is a likely outcome. In fact it is increasingly rare in the current TV landscape.
  2. Using What You Paid For: As I understand it – and I readily admit that my understanding of the workings of this part of the TV industry is weak – the networks contract for a certain number of episodes. Those episodes are in various stages of the production process, from completed scripts to post production. The networks has paid, or made partial payment, for those episodes. Trimming the order would stop work on new scripts but would allow the completed scripts (that the network has paid for) to go through the production process.

Of course all of this begs the ultimate question: why was Wicked City cancelled when Minority Report, The Player, Blood & Oil, and Truth Be Told had their orders cut? It seems to be a pretty simple answer really. The viewership for the shows that had their orders reduced were bad, no doubt about that, but the viewership for Wicked City was abysmal This chart shows the combined “live” and same day viewership 18-49 demographic ratings and share of Wicked City and the shows shows that had their orders cut. (There’s same day +7 data also available for some shows but not for Wicked City so I won’t include that). All information taken from Wikipedia which in turn uses data from TV By The Numbers. I will give information for the pilot and the most recent show to air, and for comparison sake I’ll include the information for NBC’s Blindspot, which appears to be the most successful of the new series (except Supergirl, for which I don’t have enough data).

(Same Day +1)
18-49 Rating/Share
Wicked City
November 10 1,690,000 0.4/1
The Player Pilot 4,680,000 1.2/4
November 19 3,410000 0.8/3
Blood & Oil Pilot 6,360,000 1.4/4
November 8 3,400,000 0.8/2
Minority Report Pilot 3,100,000 1.1/3
November 23 1,520,000 0.5/2
Truth Be Told  Pilot 2,580,000 0.7/3
November 20 2,110,000 0.6/2
Blindspot Pilot 10,610,000 3.1/10
November 23 7,030,000 1.9/6

Compared to the four shows that had their orders cut, viewership for the pilot of Wicked City was worse than Minority Report (which probably should have been cancelled but it ran on FOX) and Truth Be Told (which aired on Friday night, where viewership is lower than the rest of the week). Wicked City’s pilot actually had a lower viewership than the most final episode of The Player.  Maybe the worst part of all for ABC was the 18-49 demographic numbers given that at the network’s upfronts in May “ABC president Paul Lee stated that the show was their highest testing pilot of 2015 among millennials.” This group would represent the 18-35 year-old portion of the demographic, and yet the 18-49 rating and share for Wicked City was worse than that of any of the new shows except the Friday series Truth Be Told. This is the big reason why Wicked City got cancelled instead of having its order cut.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Am I Getting Too Old For This?

master-of-noneThis isn’t a review of the show I’m going to be talking about because I broke one of my cardinal rules of reviewing anything. I suppose you could call it more of a musing about the universe and my place as an amateur TV critic, as revealed by my reaction to a new show.

I signed up for Netflix a couple of months ago. There’s a whole story about being Canadian streaming video and how it’s a different experience from the one that Americans face, but that’s for another time. Generally the Netflix experience has been an enjoyable one even though I haven’t been binge watching every show available on on the service, the way we’re apparently supposed to. I usually end up watching one or two shows a night, depending on the night, but sticking with them until I’ve seen all of the available episodes.

Saturday night, after watching Ocean’s 13 (nowhere near as enjoyable as either version of Ocean’s 11 or even Ocean’s 12) I decided that I felt like a comedy. I’ve gone through the first season of Grace & Frankie which I loved so I decided that I’d try Aziz Ansari’s new series Master Of None. I had seen the rave reviews that the series had received from everybody from the New York Times to Vogue Magazine which basically called it hilarious and the greatest thing since sliced bread, or at least the greatest comedy of this year (okay, so admittedly that’s not a high bar to clear based on what the broadcast networks came up with this season. Or last season. I figured I’d give it a try and see what all the fuss was about.

I watched about half the first episode.

That’s why I’m not reviewing Master of None; my cardinal rule of reviewing anything is that you can’t give an informed opinion of anything if you only experience a portion of if. What I can tell you is why I stopped watching it. I didn’t find it funny. More importantly I didn’t find anything or anyone that I could latch onto that could hold my interest. Ansari and the three characters at the start of the episode (after his little tryst and subsequent trip to the pharmacy) were self-absorbed, self-involved, self-satisfied a--holes. There discussion of children and the impact that having children would have was enough to make me want to bludgeon all three of them so that they wouldn’t have children. An example of this was when Ansari was talking about how being a parent would keep him from having pasta. He wants pasta but having a kid means that he has to stay at home to look after the kid so he can’t have pasta. When it’s pointed out that people with kids actually have pasta, the response is that they’re just eating their kid’s Spaghetti-os. I managed to make it a few minutes longer to when Ansari and his buddy Brian were at the party for a one year-old (Brian hogs the bouncy house and gets mad because a kid in there prevents him from getting “his bounce on”) before I said to hell with this and looked for an episode of What’s My Line (with Fred Allen!) on YouTube.

The thing I look for when I’m watching most TV shows is something to hold my interest. This is usually a character that I can feel some empathy for, or sympathy for, or a situation that catches my interest. That’s what got me hooked on The Big Bang Theory from the start; I felt an empathy for Leonard being in love with someone who – at least at the beginning – had no romantic feelings for him. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt too many times. The initial mystery got me into How To Get Away With Murder, but I dropped the show recently – after the initial mystery was solved – because I didn’t like any of the characters. Actually I thought that all of the main characters should be arrested and have the keys to their cells thrown away. Having eliminated the thing that got me interested in the show it had to hold me with the characters and it didn’t have any characters that I felt any empathy or sympathy for. As far as Master of None goes, I felt nothing for Ansari or his friend who monopolized the bouncy house which was as far as I got into the regular characters.

So here’s the thing. I know I have the right to say that I didn’t like what I saw of this show. I can express a personal opinion just as well as anyone.The fact that I can give reasons – or at least I can reasonably cogently explain – why I dislike the show is even better. The problem I have is with being the voice in the wilderness; the guy who says “I hate this,” when everyone else says that “this is genius.” It bothers me because I want to know why I am this out of step with things.

(By the way I’m not kidding about “everyone” liking this show. It has an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 91 on Metacritics with all 28 critical reviews being positive.)

There are probably a lot of reasons why I didn’t rave about this show. I have always stated that I don’t really like most comedies, with a particular distaste for Seinfeld and shows that remind me of it (and boy did Master of None remind me of Seinfeld). Then, as I have said, there is the high annoyance factor that I felt about the characters that I’ve seen. Maybe the show and Ansari would have shown me something if I’d watched more of the episode or a different episode of the series or more episodes of the series? Maybe you have to watch all ten episodes to truly appreciate the show’s genius. The question then becomes whether that is necessarily a good thing, but that’s an issue for another time. Clearly I don’t know enough about the show to deliver a truly informed impression, which is why I didn’t label this as a review of the show.

But there is a nagging doubt in my mind, and that is that I can’t truly appreciate this show because at 59 years of age I am far away from being the target audience of this show. Mark Peikert of The Wrap wrote the following: “Master of None is more articulate than any other show at putting under a microscope that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence. The series also happens to be sexy, hilarious, and very moving, a tribute to Ansari’s observational powers and ability to pinpoint the zeitgeist.” But if the reason that I can’t appreciate this show is because I can’t insinuate myself into “that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence,” is it valid for me to try to review shows for a general audience?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

2015 Emmy Predictions

emmysI’m going to try to predict this year’s Emmy awards “scientifically” using four basic rules. Two of the rules are Positive, one is Negative, and one is what I guess you could call Neutral or Preferential. There’s also a fifth rule that’s not yet proven. These predictions are based on things I’ve observed about the Emmys from long before I started this Blog and even before I had the Internet.

So what are these rules? They’re actually pretty simple:

Rule 1: Winners win….until you know, they don’t.
The Emmys are unique among entertainment awards shows in that the same show or people can win year after year. The equivalent at the Oscars would be for last year’s Best Picture winner to win again this year. It doesn’t happen at the Tonys, the Grammys or the Oscars, just the Emmys and any other awards show that touches on TV. And the Emmys tend to give awards to previous season’s winners.

Rule 2: The “Hot New Thing” can overturn previous season’s winners, but it’s the academy that decide what the hot new thing is.
Funny thing about the TV awards. The people who choose the nominees and who vote for the winners don’t actually watch a hell of a lot of TV. TV critics (the pros) watch a lot of TV but the people at the TV academy are too busy working making TV shows to actually watch TV shows on a regular basis. What they know about what’s hot and what’s not is generally based on ratings and buzz and whatever  they decide is “quality” TV this year.

Rule 3: Premium cable trumps basic cable which trumps broadcast TV.
And by premium cable I mean HBO. This year HBO had 40 nominations, while Showtime had nine and Cinemax (!) had one. Those 40 nominations for HBO were greater than ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC combined although when you factor PBS into the mix it is greater. We don’t know yet were streaming video factors into this except to say that while they get more nominations than The CW, Amazon and Netflix have had very limited success.

Rule 4: Fantasy and Science Fiction don’t win… unless they come from HBO.
In fact Fantasy and Science Fiction shows almost never get nominations unless they’re on HBO. Battlestar Galactica may have been one of the best shows on all of TV during its run but never earned a Primetime Emmy nomination. Creative Arts Emmys sure, but not Emmy’s from Writing, Directing or Acting, let alone Outstanding Drama Series which are the categories being awarded on Sunday.

Let’s take a look at the series and acting categories and apply the rules. I’ll put the rule number that applies to the person or show beside their name.

Outstanding Supporting Actor Comedy
  • Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, FOX (2)
  • Titus Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix (2)
  • Ty Burrell, Modern Family, ABC (1)
  • Adam Driver, Girls, HBO (3)
  • Tony Hale, Veep, HBO (1, 3)
  • Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele, Comedy Central
 Based on this I think it will come down to a battle between the only two actors who have won before, with the edge going to Tony Hale of Veep, who was upset in the voting last year.

Outstanding Supporting Actress Comedy
  • Mayim Bialik, Big Bang Theory, CBS
  • Julie Bowen, Modern Family, ABC (1)
  • Anna Chlumsky, Veep, HBO (3)
  • Gaby Hoffman, Transparent, Amazon (2)
  • Allison Janney, Mom, CBS (1)
  • Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix (2)
  • Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live, NBC
  • Niecy Nash, Getting On, HBO (3)
 This looks tighter than it probably is. I think that Allison Janney will probably win her second straight Emmy because Bowen’s position as a previous winner goes back three years.I’m not sure how “hot” and “new” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Transparent are. Plus, the fact is that Janney’s role is really closer to being a Lead Actress role, and that always get the attention of the Academy.

Outstanding Supporting Actor Drama
  • Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul, AMC (2)
  • Jim Carter, Downton Abbey, PBS
  • Alan Cumming, The Good Wife, CBS
  • Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones, HBO (1,3,4)
  • Michael Kelly, House of Cards, Netflix
  • Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline, Netflix
I think it comes down to Peter Dinklage and Jonathon Banks. This is another weird one. Dinklage is the only actor to win for a Science Fiction-Fantasy show in years, because it was on HBO (and he is an amazing actor), but Jonathon Banks has been nominated in the past for playing this character and yet he is playing the character in a “Hot New show.” I think give this category to Jonathon Banks.

Outstanding Supporting Actress Drama
  • Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black, Netflix
  • Christine Baranski, The Good Wife, CBS
  • Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones, HBO (3, 4)
  • Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey, PBS
  • Lena Headey, Game of Thrones, HBO (3, 4)
  • Christina Hendricks, Mad Men, AMC
This is a tough category because the rules really don’t apply. To be sure you have two actresses form an HBO show, but it’s a Fantasy series. None of the actors have won in this category in the last five Emmy shows although four of the six were nominated last year and two of the six were nominated each of the past five Emmys (Baransky and Hendricks). So we have to revert to the WAG Techniques (Wild Ass Guess). As much as I would like to see Christina Hendricks win, because I don’t think she’s ever likely to get a role as good as Joan Harris for a long long time, I am going to put my metaphorical money on Uzo Aduba.

Outstanding Lead Actor Comedy
  • Anthony Anderson, Black-ish, ABC (2)
  • Don Cheadle, House of Lies, Showtime (3)
  • Louis C.K., Louie, FX (3)
  • Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth, Fox (2)
  • Matt LeBlanc, Episodes, Showtime (3)
  • William H. Macy, Shameless, Showtime (3)
  • Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent, Amazon (2)
Will Forte and Anthony Anderson are on “Hot New Shows” but I would question just how “Hot” or they really are. Jeffrey Tambor benefits from being on one of the most talked about shows of the 2014-15 season, and the fact that the guy who won four of the past five years, Jim Parsons, wasn’t nominated this time around. Tambor’s my pick here…. unless voters write in Parson’s name.

Outstanding Lead Actress Comedy
  • Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie, Showtime (1,3)
  • Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback, HBO (3)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep, HBO (1,3)
  • Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation, NBC
  • Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer, Comedy Central (2)
  • Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie, Netflix
I’d be shocked if Julia Louis Dreyfus doesn’t take this one. She’s won the past three seasons which, coincidentally, is as long as her show has been on the air. She’s on premium cable, and while Amy Schumer has undeniable talent and has been setting the comedy world on fire, I just don’t think she can beat Dreyfus.

Outstanding Lead Actor Drama
  • Kyle Chandler, Bloodline, Netflix
  • Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom, HBO (1, 3)
  • Jon Hamm, Mad Men, AMC
  • Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul, AMC (2)
  • Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan, Showtime (3)
  • Kevin Spacey, House of Cards, Netflix
My heart wants to say John Hamm will get his turn now that Bryan Cranston has departed the scene, but the rules are against him. While I realize that Jeff Daniels scored a huge upset over Cranston two years ago by beating him in this category, and is on an HBO show, I’ll give this one to Bob Odenkirk for playing an old Breaking Bad supporting character elevated to the lead on the “Hot New” Better Call Saul.

Outstanding Lead Actress Drama
  • Claire Danes, Homeland, Showtime (1, 3) 
  • Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder, ABC (2)
  • Taraji P. Henson, Empire, Fox (2)
  • Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black, BBC America (4)
  • Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men, AMC
  • Robin Wright, House of Cards, Netflix
Two of the hottest new shows of the year face off in this category where the seemingly perpetual winner, Julianna Margulies, wasn’t nominated this time. Claire Danes is a two time winner so she’s a definite prospect, but there are those who think her show has slipped into absurdity. I personally think it comes down to Viola Davis vs. Taraji P. Henson. I’m going to reluctantly come down on the side of Viola Davis (reluctantly because I really don’t like the character or the show) simply because from what I’ve seen Taraji P. Henson’s character, Cookie Lyon, seems to be way over the top. Of course I wouldn’t be surprised if Henson won either.

Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Louie, FX
  • Modern Family, ABC (1)
  • Parks and Recreation, NBC
  • Silicon Valley, HBO (3)
  • Transparent, Amazon (2)
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix
  • Veep, HBO (3)
In the past five years Modern Family has won this category five times. It’s probably the safe call to say that it will make it six in a row, but all streaks have to come to an end eventually (don’t they?) and I can definitely see Transparent knocking he wheels off of the Modern Family juggernaut, because I think it’s time.

Outstanding Drama Series
  • Better Call Saul, AMC (2)
  • Downton Abbey, PBS
  • Game of Thrones, HBO (3, 4)
  • Homeland, Showtime (1, 3)
  • House of Cards, Netflix
  • Mad Men, AMC (1)
  • Orange Is the New Black, Netflix
Breaking Bad not being on the list opens things up a lot. Homeland and Mad Men have both won in this category in the past but neither show was at its best this past season and the same can be said of non-winner House of Cards. Game of Thrones has the “Fantasy” label attached. That leaves us with Downton Abbey, Orange Is the New Black, and Better Call Saul. Because Better Call Saul wins the “Hot New Show” description, and I’m not sure the TV Academy has quite wrapped its collective heads around Netflix, I’ll make that my choice in this category.

The 67th Annual Emmy Awards will be seen Sunday, September 20 on FOX. Watch this space to see how well I and the “rules” I came up with do.

Update: The rules had a .600 Batting Average which is really rather good, although I will have to tinker with them more for next year. Details to follow.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

My Latest Blog

I just started a new blog called That’s What I Think About That. Don’t bother going there yet; there’s nothing there yet. It’s a work in progress that hasn’t progressed very much. What I wanted was a place where I can vent my spleen over things that don’t exactly fit into a blog focussed on TV. Like the US Supreme Court ruling on Same Sex Marriage and the reactions of some people to that decision. Or NHL expansion to Las Vegas and other places. Or the wrong-headedness of fixed election dates in Canada.


Posting at the new blog will be sporadic – which I know is a big joke give the way this blog has gone of late. Still this is a way for me to put my opinions out there with the illusion that someone might read it. But it’s mostly just for me.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Problem Resolved

Title says it all. It was related to two factor authentication from Google and the need for a Google generated password to access Google websites with third-party, non-browser tools. Complicated and I tend to like things that are simple.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


I am officially having problems posting to this blog.

In the past I’ve used Microsoft Live Writer to post new entries to my blog, and before that Microsoft Word. However during my recent almost year long hiatus from blogging, something has apparently changed and I can’t use these tools. When I try I get the following error message when using Live Writer (my ancient version of Word – 2007 – gives me even less explanation):

Windows Live Writer was not able to log in to the remote server using the username and password.
Please check that the information is correct and try again.

Needless to say, the information is correct but no amount of trying again will give me the desired result. Apparently this might have something to do with two-factor identification but for the life of me I can’t figure out how to make this right. As it stands right now I can mostly post by cutting and pasting – which is what I’m doing with this post – but that gets old fast.

Any help anyone can offer me would be greatly appreciated

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

NBC Upfronts 2015-16

It’s that time of year again when the US broadcast TV networks cancel the shows they decided didn’t work last season and unveil the new shows that they believe will sweep up audiences in droves… most of which will be cancelled this time next year.And I’m going to try to write about them at least until I’m overwhelmed by despair about the new season and retreat into watching what I always watch.

As always NBC led off the upfront season although unlike in previous years they chose to introduce their new line-up on a Sunday rather than the traditional Monday. By turns the new offerings are vaguely intriguing, yawn worthy, and disappointing. First the cancellations (some of which were in the “blink and you’ve missed it” category of midseason replacements).

Constantine, State of Affairs, Marry Me, About A Boy, One Big Happy, A to Z, Allegiance, Bad Judge, Parenthood, Park & Recreation, Working The Engels

Renewed (not counting summer series)
Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Grimm, Hollywood Game Night, Law & Order SVU, Biggest Loser, The Blacklist, Celebrity Apprentice, The Mysteries of Laura, Undateable

New Shows
Before Christmas: Blindspot, Heartbreaker, The Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, Heroes Reborn, The Player, People Are Talking
Midseason: Coach, Hot And Bothered, Chicago Med, Crowded, Emerald City, Game of Silence, Little Big Shots, Shades of Blue, Superstore, You And Me And The End Of The World

Fall Schedule by day

8-10 p.m. The Voice
10-11 p.m. BLINDSPOT

8-9 p.m. The Voice
Chicago Fire (starting in November)

8-9 p.m. The Mysteries of Laura
9-10 p.m. Law & Order SVU
10-11 p.m. Chicago PD

9-10 p.m. The Blacklist
10-11 p.m. THE PLAYER

8-8:30 p.m. Undateable
9-10 p.m. Grimm
10-11 p.m. Dateline


I’ve managed to see the trailers for most of these despite YouTube region blocking so I shall try to summarize largely without Network press releases (except for actor names).

Blindspot begins with a bag left in the middle of Time Square with a tag that says “Call FBI.” Inside is a naked woman (Jamie Alexander) covered with tattoos, all of which are new. “Jane Doe” has been stripped of her memories and has no idea who she is or why her body is covered in tattoos. One tattoo says to call FBI Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) who has no idea why he’s being called in on this case or why his name is written in large letters on Jane Doe’s back, or for that matter the meaning of the tattoos. Over time several things become apparent: the tattoos on Jane’s back represent clues to crimes that they are to solve, and that Jane has considerable skills that she hasn’t forgotten that will help them solve those crimes.

Heartbreaker stars Melissa George as Dr. Alex Pantierre, one of a handful of female heart transplant surgeons in the world. She is also the head of new technologies at her hospital. As usual in medical dramas she is someone who breaks the rules if it can possibly help her patients and is more than willing to try innovative procedures when necessary. Also as usual in medical dramas (particularly medical dramas with female leads) she struggles to balance her professional life with her personal life.

NBC didn’t do a trailer for The Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris, so I’ll have to go to the network press release: “Complete with stunts, skits, pranks, audience interaction, musical numbers, giveaways and unlimited surprises, this show proves that anything can happen, and it can happen to you. Based on the wildly popular British hit Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway.”

There also isn’t a trailer for Heroes Reborn beyond a few teasers from the Super Bowl in February which basically announced that the show would be coming back – as a 13 episode miniseries. As I understand it, some but not all of the original cast (including Jack Coleman and Masi Oka) will be returning for the mini-series while new people with powers will be emerging, most notably Zach Levi from Chuck.

The Player starts with an interesting concept. Philip Winchester plays Alex Kane, Las Vegas’s top – and most flamboyant – security expert. Following the murder of his wife, Alex is drawn into a complex game. In a city where people will bet on anything, the ultimate game is betting on whether Alex can stop a crime from taking place, or even survive the tasks put before him. In this “game” the house consists of three people: Alex – the Player, Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield) – the Dealer, and the mysterious Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) – the Pit Boss. If Alex is able to accomplish the tasks put before him, he might just be able to get revenge for the death of his wife.


One thing I’ve noticed in going over the NBC shows that have been cancelled and renewed is just how few NBC shows I watched in the past season. I watched State Of Affairs and mostly didn’t find it as laughable as I had expected given that it was Katherine Heigl as a CIA agent who advised the President on national security threats. And yet I don’t find myself mourning its passing. I watched Chicago Fire and Chicago PD for quite a while but in the past year or so I’ve basically given up on those as well. Basically the only thing I watch on NBC is The Blacklist.

The biggest thing to note is the near absence of situation comedy in the fall line-up. Not counting the Neil Patrick Harris series, which sounds like it might turn into something of a mess, the only comedies in the line-up are the returning Undateable and the new People Are Talking. It is something of a sign that the only two comedies at the start of the season are both scheduled for Friday night before Grimm. Setting aside the fact that this is the “Friday night death slot” (because after all CBS at least seems to thrive on Fridays) People are Talking at least definitely doesn’t fall into the NBC comedy tradition as exemplified by Seinfeld, Fraser, The Office, Community, and Parks And Recreation. Then again the latter two series didn’t exactly set the ratings world on fire. Moreover last season, when NBC made a major push to do sit coms, the results were pretty disastrous with most of the shows dying a quick and for the most part well-deserved death. Based on the trailer that I saw, People Are Talking seems to be playing things very safe which is far different from the edgy sort of comedy that we generally expect from NBC.

Blindspot and The Player both seem interesting although they also seem to be trying to replicate the success of NBC’s one big drama success that isn’t produced by Dick Wolf, namely The Blacklist. Blindspot is probably closest to what The Blacklist in that there’s quite obviously a massive conspiracy behind the scenes that “Jane Doe” and Agent Weller will have to unravel. The question is whether audiences will have the patience to stick with the show if it is an unrelenting in pursuing the show’s mytharc, particularly when the show is opposite the “simpler” NCIS: Los Angeles and Castle. Initially at least The Player seems likely to be more episodic and therefore easier to access for viewers. Plus it has The Blacklist as a lead in, although the ratings for that show have been slipping, probably because it is going against Scandal and CBS comedies on Thursday night.

I’m not sure what to say about Heartbreaker. The whole thing of the female lead being forced to balance her personal and professional lives is such a cliché. Take that away and I’m not sure there’s enough there for the show to engage its audience. I wonder if this is meant as a placeholder to be replaced, when it inevitably crashes and burns, with Dick Wolf’s latest opus, Chicago Medical.

Finally something needs to be said about the revival of Heroes as Heroes Reborn. I don’t know why it’s happening given how quickly and totally the show collapsed in it’s first run. The cynic in me says that executives at NBC looked at the success of the Marvel movie/TV franchises (including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), not to mention Arrow and The Flash and even iZombie on The CW and said: “We need a superhero show. Okay so we blew it with Constantine but superheroes are still hot. Let’s take another run at doing Heroes. We’ll do it as a limited series, and if it works out maybe we’ll bring it back in 2016 as a full series.” And since I can’t think of a better reason why they revived this, I think the cynical view wins.

Final assessment of what NBC is giving us: there’s very little here that I actually find engaging. There are a couple of shows that I’ll try but I honestly don’t think much of their chances for survival. Nothing here strikes me as a genuine sustainable hit.