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Monthly Archives: September 2009

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Dollhouse Returns Empty Handed

Yup, the one Joss Whedon show that FOX and whoever should have canceled, but didn’t, Dollhouse is back. Dollhouse’s season finale pulled in a 2.8. Dollhouse’s season premiere pulled in a 2.7. How low those numbers will go by the time that Dollhouse burns through its 13 episode order, and Kevin Reilly has to choose between not wasting more money or pleasing Eliza Dushku’s boyfriend, is anyone’s guess. Dollhouse’s 18/34 demos haven’t dropped any, but they’re still as good or bad as Smallville or Brothers. Considering what FOX is spending to get a 1.0 demo, you’d think that FOX was so desperate it was the CW.

Kevin Reilly stupidly made the choice to cancel Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles, which managed to pull in a 3.8 for both its season opener and season finale. By contrast Dollhouse had dropped from 4.7 to 2.8 in only 13 episodes. If that match keeps up, FOX may be stuck with negative viewers, 13 episodes in. And considering the not particularly promising stuff that Epitaph One suggested we have to look forward to, that might actually happen.

It’s hard to know who exactly to blame for this mess. Kevin Reilly deserves his share for killing a great SciFi TV series for a very bad one. Joss Whedon’s obsessive fanboys and fangirls who reflexively praise anything the man does, regarding of quality or content, and if you think I’m being mean or exaggerating, remember that there was a Save Dollhouse campaign going, before a single Dollhouse episode had even aired. That’s like running a Four More Years campaign for a candidate who wasn’t even elected yet. There’s Eliza Dushku making her final bid for relevance, before she has to buckle down and play someone’s wacky best friend on a sitcom. And finally there’s Joss Whedon whose output has actually gotten worse over the years, and who really doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing with Dollhouse. Maybe if he had exercised some quality control back during the Buffy and Angel days, or when making Serenity or Dollhouse, he wouldn’t need a die hard fanbase to promote him, his work would actually be a popular, and not in a viral webseries kind of way.

Smallville Hits the Friday Night Death Slot

It’s not clear what Dawn Ostroff’s thinking was behind moving the CW’s highest rated show, Smallville, into the Friday Night Death Slot of Doom, but that’s just what she did, and just what she got. The Smallville Season 9 premiere, and this is a premiere mind you, pulled ratings in the neighborhood of 2.5, which when compared to the Season 8 premiere of 4.3 is down a whole whole lot. Smallville’s ratings did decline over Season 8, but even Season 8’s finale pulled in well above 3 million. So while 2.5 is not the worst case scenario kind of drop, it’s certainly bad news.

The really baffling thing is that moving Smallville to Friday night would have made sense if it was a contractually obligated series that the CW didn’t care about, or if it was some long shot show. Instead the CW spent a lot of money to bring back Smallville for another season, only to then dump it on Friday nights, a time that the CW should not even be scheduling programming for, considering how bad their ratings and overall situation is. The theory that Dawn Ostroff wants to kill Smallville and replace it with another Gossip Girls clone, like The Vampire Diaries, is crazy, but it’s the only theory that makes any kind of sense.

The one thing that the CW and Ostroff have insured is that Smallville’s 9th season is its final season. On the other hand with the general ratings freefall, this may actually not be the end. The Brothers premiere pulled in numbers nearly as bad as Smallville. And that was on FOX, which unlike the CW, people who aren’t teenage girls actually watch. Meanwhile Dollhouse right after it, couldn’t even manage a 3, turning in at 2.7 million viewers. That’s actually down from a 2.8 at its own season finale. Compare that to the canceled Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles whose finale pulled in 3.8 million viewers. So despite Smallville’s decline, it’s still ahead of the Dollhouse crapfest, when you compensate for network discrepancies and promotional power.

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson unveil “The Sand Dunes of Dune”

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have brought you such fascinating backstory prequel tales of Dune, before you cared about Dune, with novels such as “Paul of Dune”, “The Road to Dune”, “The Sandworms of Dune”, and “The Winds of Dune”. Now finally comes the Dune novel you have all been waiting for that explores Dune at its most elemental element, its dunes. Its dunes of sand. Its sand dunes. Coming in 2010, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson bring you the Dune prequel novel to end all Dune prequel novels, “The Sand Dunes of Dune.”

You’ve all noticed the sand dunes of Dune. Dune is nothing is not filled with sand dunes. But what is the story of these sand dunes. What fierce passions shaped them? What mortal struggles shook them to the core? And what terrible secrets still lurk deep beneath the feverishly hot sand dunes of Dune?

Award winning writers Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson continue their quest to solve the world’s energy problems by making Frank Herbert turn a full quarter mile inside his grave, with “The Sand Dunes of Dune”. Go back in time to a time before Dune was full of sand dunes. Where did all the sand in the dunes of Dune come from? What is its history and what hopeless destiny lies in its future? What are its thoughts on all the cheap tie in novels that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have written about Dune?

Find out the answers to these questions and more in Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s “The Sand Dunes of Dune” coming in 2010. And hold your breath for 2011, when Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson will release Dune 9, tentative title, “The Microscopic Microbes of Dune.”

Coming soon.

The Future of Mass Effect

One of the smartest things about Mass Effect is how Bioware took its experience working on the Star Wars IP and producing probably the best Star Wars games in a long time, Knights of the Old Republic, and then turned it its own private and equally popular IP with Mass Effect. Mass Effect is of course very obviously Knights of the Old Republic crossed with Halo, a crossbreed that’s especially potent. The entire package was put together in a realistic SciFi universe with the Force dressed up as Biotics (blame George Lucas for opening the door to this sort of thing with midochlorians, now with extra clorox midochlorian bleach), a multispecies alliance and a main character who has been chosen to serve in the elite order of the protectors of the multispecies alliance, a Jed… uh Spectre.

The thing about Mass Effect is that it’s just as good or even better than Knights of the Old Republic, proving that Lucas needs Bioware, more than Bioware needs Lucas. The KOTOR MMORPG being developed by Bioware may change the MMORPG environment, or just drop off unheard. But Mass Effect will keep on going. And while there might not be any more Knights of the Old Republic games unless the MMORPG bombs badly (so for anyone who hates the MMORPG idea and wants another KOTOR RPG, start trolling the Bioware forums now), Mass Effect 2 is moving full steam ahead, hopefully with the enhanced functionality that was left at the door in order to make Mass Effect 1’s ship date.

But probably what’s most exciting about Mass Effect is that it’s a strong outer space game that might be a disguised RPG shooter, but feels like a grand space opera. And that sort of thing is rare. For all the pretense, Halo is nothing more than a shooter. Its story and plot are hopelessly dumb. Mass Effect, like a lot of Bioware work, feels much closer to a good Science Fiction novel. At a time when we’re supposed to be excited over Avatar, a movie that looks like a video game, Mass Effect 2 promises to be another game that looks like a great Science Fiction movie.

Disney Rejects The Diary of Anne Frank over “Intenseness” and “Darkness”

And you know they were expecting it to be so upbeat and cheerful too.

To be fair, it’s a David Mamet project, and the man can do dark and intense. But this is also the man who wrote and directed The Winslow Boy, itself a definitive proof that he can frame a work in the proper context. The marriage of Disney and the Diary of Anne Frank always seemed an odd one. It brings to mind an old Saturday Night Live cartoon (well old by the standards of 2009 anyway) that showed what a Disney animated version would look like, complete with Whoopi Goldberg doing the voices. It also seems well, redundant.

The Diary of Anne Frank has been made into a movie, a TV movie, a broadway production and a whole bunch of other things. David Mamet clearly wanted a more contemporary relevant take on it, by tying it to modern day suicide bombings and modern day Anne Franks. And that takes it into the realm of controversy and modern politics, not a place that Disney is comfortable with.

The reason Disney was probably interested in The Diary of Anne Frank in the first place is because it was a known quantity. A story that had been retold over and over again, and sanitized, first by her father and then by generations of movie and TV executives. What David Mamet was probably going for was a lot rawer and riskier, less cheerful and upbeat, less about the power of hope or any other such treacle, but about what human beings do to other human beings. In other words he was taking a safe product and making it unsafe. Is it any wonder Disney put it in turnaround?

Hey Kids, Who Wants Another Ghost Rider Movie?

You don’t? You would rather see Nicholas Cage do 50 more Japanese rice commercials than do another Ghost Rider? Well too bad, because a Ghost Rider sequel is coming anyway. Marvel and Disney have created an unholy union, and determined that Ghost Rider 2 will come, no matter what you think about it. Marvel, unlike DC, has never seemed to quite grasp that average moviegoers are not interested in movies about their less famous superheroes.

To make that magic 9 figure sum happen at the box office, you need to bring in say 20 million or so people, which means finding 20 million or so people who know who your superhero is and want to see a movie about him. For Spider-Man, who has his own newspaper strip and is Marvel’s most famous hero, that’s easy enough. The X-Men can pass too. But Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Thor or whatever else Marvel wants to roll out, will keep on falling short of the 100 million mark domestic. And to top it off, these characters are a little hard to sell in the first place, especially when your movie is being helmed by Mark Steven Johnson, whose only previous directing experience was making Simon Birch, a movie that John Irving hated rabidly.

A Peter Jackson or a Jon Favreau might be able to make a crowd pleasing movie that will transcend the source material. That’s what happened with Iron Man, but a man in a metal suit who fights bad guys is a lot easier to sell audiences on, than Ghost Rider. Frankly just about anything is easier to sell than Ghost Rider, except maybe Thor. That’s because your summer popcorn audience thinks comic books should be about guys in capes or shiny suits fighting bad guys. And another Ghost Rider movie is another ride down a long dark road to nowhere.

The Dogs of Late September are Barking

The dog days of August are done, but the dog days of late September are about to run up and into the yard, bite down on a chew toy, dig up some grass and then sulk away. Just take a look at what’s opening this week. First up there’s Surrogates, which some optimistic studio executives might delude themselves into thinking will open at the number one spot. Jonathan Mostow’s return to big screen directing after Terminator 3, a movie that even its worst detractors will have to admit looks good next to Terminator 4. Surrogates stars Bruce Willis, but that’s not likely to help it much either. In the 90’s, a tagline like “Starring Bruce Willis” and “From the Director of Terminator 3” might have meant instant money. Today when combined with a late September opening, it’s not exactly a promise.

Then there’s Pandorum, which at least has better word of mouth, if not significantly better prospects. Fame may manage to claw its way into the top 5. I Hope They Serve Beer Hell, a movie based on Tucker Max’s life, or bloglife anyway, is likely to hit 7, if it even opens in the top 10. The reviews for it are not exactly bright and cheery, and an ad campaign consisting of misogynist taglines that don’t actually identify the movie they’re promoting, almost as if they’re ashamed by association, don’t help. Surprisingly the current RT rating is at 33 percent, which is not as bad as it could be. But when more legit reviews register, it will probably slide below that.

The movie getting the biggest PR push is Capitalism: A Love Story, in which Michael Moore will put together some stock footage, rants about the rich and staged scenes which he probably had to reshoot a dozen times, into a movie that may be the number 1 winner this week, if Cloudy can’t keep its audience. But it’s part of September’s general weakness. Jennifer’s Body bombed. Not even Tyler Perry could pull in his regular audience to see him wear a dress in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself. And the latest Final Destination movie fell sadly short, thus dealing another blow to the 3D gimmick. The dogs of September are barking and they don’t have anything to say at all.

World Without Superman is a Smart Move

At first the idea of Superman leaving earth and going out into space seemed like a terrible idea, but World of Krypton or World Without Superman is actually a smart idea. That’s not to say that it’s hugely entertaining, Kryptonians have never been all that interesting because they remain one of those generic smarty advanced civilizations with lots of crystals and robes no matter what the series does to try and flesh them out, but taking away Superman’s physical uniqueness, puts who he is into better contrast. Usually writers have done this by taking away Superman’s powers, but that basically leaves him weak and useless. World of Krypton instead surrounds Superman with a whole city-world full of people who share his powers and a society in which he has to play a role.

World of Krypton’s tack on it, particularly making General Zod something more than a one note villain, is interesting. The Kryptonians of Kandor are not ideal or monstrous, they are as uneven as humans are, with prejudices, fears and hopes. All that gooshy warm humany stuff. While the public embrace of Zod is not entirely plausible, he has come off as more of a sociopath than anything else, not really a team player, it does insert him into a real role in his society.

The Supergirl part of the story is weakest, not just the recycled War on Terror is bad stuff, or turning General Lane into a bigger monster than General Zod, but turning her into a confused pawn in everyone’s game who’s hopelessly indecisive and incapable of knowing what she wants. And I won’t even mention the Flamebird and Nightwing garbage that seems like nothing more than a sop to the kind of stories that Valerie D’Orazio would like DC to do. But World of Krypton itself is interesting, even if a bit slow moving.

New York Times’ Virginia Heffernan Gets it Wrong Again

Lately the Times seems to produce articles that aren’t just wrong, but mindbogglingly wrong and Virginia Heffernan’s Feminist Hawks is a case in point. Heffernan begins by claiming that the idea of using force to liberate women from fundamentalist Muslim dictatorships such as the Taliban began with an online petition to the UN in the late 90’s. This would be ridiculous enough, if Heffernan didn’t manage to contradict herself in her own article by mentioning that the petition called for political pressure, not military action.

The rest of the article takes place in some alternate universe in which Camilla Paglia and Phyllis Chesler were never born, never mind Oriana Fallaci, because Heffernan insists that what she labels Feminist Hawks is something created by David Horowitz at Front Page Magazine, which like Slate is a newsmagazine with multiple contributors, rather than a one man blog, but who cares at this point. Then rather than interviewing Horowitz himself, Heffernan goes further into outer space, by instead interviewing Tim Hwang, one of those trendy internet people who discuss internet trends, which makes perfect sense if you don’t happen to realize that the ideas being discussed actually predate the internet.

Lost in all this blizzard of craziness, is anything relevant or any actual history of ideas that can’t be found through a drunken 5 second google. Virginia Heffernan might have at least put in the minimal effort of interviewing female warbloggers, but it’s easier to get a trendy quote from Tim Hwang about Membrid, which sounds like a 14 year old’s idea of an alien race, than actually explore a topic. And just when my head was done hurting, Heffernan tops herself by claiming that family values emerged from Christian TV and Rush Limbaugh couldn’t have succeeded anywhere but on AM radio… or I guess Cable TV or a syndicated column.

But that’s what happens when you try to talk about ideas in terms of a medium, instead of about the ideas themselves.

Leadership the Cobra Commander Way

In the tradition of such highly useful books as “Make It So, Leadership Lessons from Captain Picard” and “If I’m Having a Bad Day I’ll Blow Up My Own Ship Just To Spite You, Leadership Lessons from Captain Janeway“, comes the latest self-help tome for CEO’s who have no idea what to do besides sell stock in their own companies.

Presenting, “RETREAT! Leadership Lessons from Cobra Commander!” by Cobra Commander.

Leadership tip number 1. Leadership by example is for suckers. You worked hard to get to where you were by being a crazy lunatic with a rag over his face. Don’t waste it all by making an example of yourself too. That’s what Cobra Vipers are for.

Leadership tip number 2. The perfect plan is one where the greatest possible number of things can go wrong. Ideally your plan should depend on some sort of unproven technology combined with a large scale deployment that is both expensive and unpredictable. Are you listening to me Microsoft?

Leadership tip number 3. When your plan fails, now’s the time to retreat. Even if your plan only experiences a minor setback, it’s time to retreat. Even if you’re feeling tired and achy and think you might be coming down with a cold, it’s always a safe bet to retreat.

Leadership tip number 4. Sniveling is the mark of a great man. Kick them when they’re down and beg them for mercy when they’re on the way up. That’s how you get to the top and stay there.

Leadership tip number 5. Since you’re reading this book you’re probably completely incompetent like me, the trick then is to fill your ranks with incompetent subordinates insuring that there is no one available to replace you. Of course nothing you do or plan will ever succeed, but at least your job as CEO of Comcast or Cobra Commander is safe.

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