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Monthly Archives: May 2011

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Grimm and Once Upon a Time Previews

Grimm is shown off as a show by the Buffy and Angel producers about a cop killing monsters. Once Upon a Time as a show by the writers of Lost about a strange town that’s part of a dual reality with an extensive backstory. So no one’s wandering too far away from their specialty.

Based on the promos alone, the acting doesn’t look too great in either one, but Grimm has a premise that can carry over past a few episodes, Once Upon a Time is more like if we knew ahead of time that Lost was going to suck. That’s unfair. Once Upon a Time could be another 10th Kingdom. But I don’t see much of a fun factor here. Bad acting. An uninvolving lead. Robert Carlyle shows up. And maybe there’s more good to the show.

Grimm doesn’t seem bad. It lacks some of the punch I was hoping for. And we’ve got the usual Forever Knight setup with a cop who has superpowers that he uses to solve crime and a partner who doesn’t know it. But the werewolf sidekick is looking like fun. But the Grimm preview looks like it’s the entire first episode. That’s a stupid thing to do.

I was hoping Grimm would be more like Special Unit 2 and maybe it will be. Right now it looks enough like a generic procedural to be boring.

What’s Killing Science Fiction TV?

And don’t say the networks. That’s too obvious. Who is really to blame for a TV landscape where Science Fiction hardly exists?

1. Pretentious Showrunners

a. Arcs – I warned about this back in the DS9/B5 days and none of the fanboys would listen. And here we are. Science Fiction dramas come with convoluted arcs built in and audiences tune out. The more convoluted the arc, the more it panders to hard cores and casual viewers have trouble getting into the show. That limits the potential audience.

b. Religion – Remember when Science Fiction shows were about doing things. Now they’re about faith and mysticism. Even the latest Stargate is about searching for the divine code of the universe. Lost ended in the afterlife. Fringe’s finale raised up an interdimensional crucifix. The Battlestar Galactica reboot, like I even need to spell that one out. The common denom is that showrunners want to say something about religion, but suck at it. The shows turn into mumbo jumbo. Viewers tune out. (I warned about this in the DS9/B5 days too.)

c. Unlikable Characters – People invest in characters. The characters can’t be too complicated. We want to know who they are a minute after we meet them. And they can’t be crazy or awful people. Not even if that’s what you think sophisticated writing means.

2. Squishy Fandom

a. Fandom today is defined less by the majority of fans, and more by a minority who are lot squishier. Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman worshipers are the ones in a position to define fandom. But they’re a minority. And the shows that the Etsy and Steampunk crowd push don’t connect well with viewers. The same thing is happening with written Science Fiction.

3. Yes, Networks

a. Scripted drama is expensive. Scripted drama with tons of effects is even more expensive. The SyFy channel decided it doesn’t really want to be in the science fiction business anymore. Most networks made that decision earlier. Some shows still get ordered, but not many. And they’re not given support. Classical space based SF is dismissed as too male oriented. And the alternatives are more copies of X-Files, instead of a more innovative concept like Sliders. Concepts which are light on effects, less expensive to make and can connect to audiences.

b. Science Fiction doesn’t fit naturally into the TV format which is aimed at the largest possible audience. TV is still built on the family model. It’s less oriented to kids now, but it still tries to hook male and female audiences equally. A movie can pander to one gender or the other, but that’s riskier with a TV show. Networks still expect audiences to carry over from one show to the next. A show that pulls in an audience that doesn’t carry over to the rest of the schedule or doesn’t pick up the audience from earlier shows is a problem. A series whose viewers just tune into that show and alienate any portion of the network audience is a problem. Science fiction fits more naturally into the theater which bills itself as giving you an amazing experience, but most TV isn’t into amazing experiences. It’s comfort food. And Science Fiction doesn’t really go as comfort food.

c. Science Fiction audiences are often more tech savvy which means they’re more likely to DVR or Hulu or just pirate the show. Networks still haven’t adapted to measuring raw numbers, rather than viewership ratings. Until that happens programming aimed at less tech savvy audiences will score better.

d. Coming up with another family drama or sitcom isn’t that hard. Coming up with a successful one is, but not as hard as coming up with a concept for a Science Fiction series. Most dramas are not that conceptually complicated. Even a dumb Science Fiction show is. And that’s the stage where most shows break down. Where the network just can’t see this pitch working. Where the pilot doesn’t hold up. Complexity is difficult.

Fringe Finale, I Wish I Cared

Give Fringe some credit, the two universes idea isn’t bad. Even if it’s the only thing that Abrams, Lindelof, etc keep hammering at over and over again, from Lost to Abrams Trek. Was there any reason to expect a disappointing ending from the guys behind Lost and Abrams Trek? Yeah. And and that’s what we got.

The whole storyline never worked all that well except when everyone was crossing universes. And turning the leads into the chosen duo was the big mistake too many shows make today. Driving it home with a crucifixion machine. Just tacky. A future flashforward. Not a bad idea for a penultimate episode, but weak for a finale. And the final twist was more of a cliffhanger setting a tedious search next season where someone will somehow remember and begin searching for, etc.

Fringe used to be more investigators in the X-Files sense, but the more the episodes have focused on backstory and explaining what’s going on, the more arcy they’ve become and less interesting. The arc is one of the things killing SF TV and one reason these shows have so much trouble keeping their hold on viewers. And trust the Lost people to blow their own arc. As usual.

Killing Breaking In

Crash, smash, bam. I wasn’t a huge fan of Breaking In or a fan at all, but FOX’s treatment of a promising show was stupid and self-destructive. Obviously FOX was never really sold on Breaking In, they just threw it in there, and maybe throwing a male skewing show on after American Idol wasn’t a perfect idea, but the initial ratings were good and the show had promise. FOX casually killing it to make way for another hour of AbramsCrap that will be cancelled, unless it’s dumped in with Fringe on Friday nights leaves a bad taste.

Breaking In wasn’t perfect, but it appealed to the demos that FOX wanted much more than Alcatraz will. Jettisoning it this quickly was not smart. Especially after giving Matt Miller a whole year to torture Human Target to death in its mutated second season. The only good news is this frees up Christian Slater to do something better. Or something worse. He’s an obvious choice to replace Sheen on Two and a Half Men, but it looks like they’re going higher profile.

I’m not going to send protest whatevers over Breaking In. It wasn’t that good a show. But it could have been a successful one. It’s bad enough when FOX kills shows that are good, but not ratings winners, but when it kills shows like The Sarah Connor Chronicles that perform to make way for shows whose producers it has sweetheart deals with, like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, then something is really wrong here.

Human Target Canceled

Far as I’m concerned, Human Target was canceled at the end of Season 1. Matt Miller’s Chuckifed Human Target was just adding insult to injury. And this finalizes it. Whatever combination of network notes and production company crap put Matt Miller in charge of turning Human Target into a doily lace version of its old self, failed badly.

And this is why campaigns to save shows are not always a good idea. Human Target made it past the bubble, but only by killing everything good about itself. The cast and crew kept their jobs. But the show was a nauseating shadow of its former self. FOX used its failure as proof that it never worked. When actually it did work.

Human Target aired to decent ratings which began falling off. But not that much. The problem was demographics. You would think an action oriented series wouldn’t have too much trouble in that department. But it did. Season 2 trashed the show to court female viewers, but alienated both genders. The falloff was bad.

So what was Human Target’s real problem? The show kept being moved around. Human Target’s DVR ratings usually boosted the show, but not enough. FOX only aired half a season for its first season, making it a show that was easy to forget about. Then there’s American Idol. Idol draws a desired audience to FOX but cripples the rest of its schedule by building shows around that audience. Human Target was really canceled to make way for the X Factor, another Idol wannabe.

The TV Purges Continue

If 2010 was the year of the mercy bubble renewal, 2011 is the year of the mercy killing. Or the merciless killing. Chuck has been saved, but NBC has killed Law and Order Los Angeles and The Event. And David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman may never air, even though it had all the hype on its side, and it was probably the most covered new series. But most of the talk was bad, that showed interest.

Still NBC wisely chose not to take the chance on an expensive series. But then why put a guy who mainly knows how to do shows about people screaming at each other, in charge of developing a superhero series. Sure Ally McBeal, but that was a terrible show. NBC thought Kelley could give them a superhero series that would cross over well with women. Maybe if it came with a time machine back the 90’s.

What is clear is that the networks are cleaning house in a big and aggressive way. CBS did it last year. NBC and FOX are doing it this year. There’s too much deadwood around and both networks are not where they should be.

NPR’s Stupid Outsourced Rant

It’s amazing reading articles from people who sit through dingy episode after episode of 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation, but treat watching Outsourced like a priest going to a whorehouse. They make a point of telling you how much they’re lowering themselves by even talking about it. The Onion’s piece was bad enough. NPR’s Marc Hirsh is even worse. The smugness just rolls off the page like sweat off a fat guy.

First a comparison of Outsourced to Doritos. We get it. You’re too good for junk food. Then the obligatory salaaming for 30 Rock. We’re get it, you’re elite. And then the stupid begins. I’m going to cut out most of it to get to the criticisms.

It depicts American culture in the stupidest possible terms… Outsourced’s Todd (the manager of the call center, played by Ben Rappaport) talks about these bits of useless crap as though they’re the basic currency of American culture, rather than silly items used for coarse humor. The show doesn’t say, “Yes, a bell that you ring to announce that you’re horny is dumb, but it makes people laugh, and that’s why we sell it.” It says, “The sex bell is one of the things that makes American great and free.” It’s presenting worthless marginalia as societal cornerstones.

Because… you know funny. Just like 30 Rock and The Office exaggerate for comedic effect. Or Stan on American Dad.

Presenting worthless marginalia as societal cornerstones? Way to channel your inner Armond White. Also why isn’t The Office about the quest for world peace. And why were Darren and Samantha so obsessed with advertising, instead of fighting for civil rights? Why?

A show where there’s a joke about gag gifts being the American way, now hates America or something. Thanks for the Glenn Beck analysis of a 3 second bit of a half hour comedy on the tail end of NBC’s schedule.

Indian culture is constantly viewed as though it’s in the wrong.

Okay so now Outsourced doesn’t just hate America, it hates India too! Except the writers are mostly Indian. And it’s a show about cultural misunderstandings viewed from both sides. The American and Indian characters are baffled by each other’s oddities.

In many episodes, Todd comes face to face with some aspect of Indian society that he doesn’t understand (such as arranged marriage and simple physical contact like shoulder-touching) and spends the rest of the episode trying to convince everyone else that the American way is better. What’s worse, he often succeeds… Essentially, the show’s main character thinks India would be a whole lot better if it were exactly like the United States, instead of, say, India.

This isn’t completely wrong, but it’s not really true either.

Todd is aggressively clueless, but he rarely convinces anyone that the American way is best. Shoulder touching is a custom that he freaks about and learns to avoid. Arranged marriage is questioned not just by Americans, but by Indians. But the American hook ups of Todd and then Mahnmeet are shown to be dead ends.

The show never comes down on either side. Instead it shows both sides learning about each other.

In fact, in one of the more curious developments around this show, I can tell you – purely anecdotally – the most ardent fans that I’ve found are people of Indian descent. (Yes, that’s written by a writer on the show, but she discusses this phenomenon anecdotally herself.) And it’s not simply a matter of “Yay, we’re on TV!” (For that, they’d simply have to turn to The Office, 30 Rock, The Good Wife, Parks And Recreation, The Big Bang Theory, etc.) The attitude seems to be that Indians are a self-deprecating bunch and that it’s silly to be offended even when the point seems to be that Indian culture is stupid/funny/wrong,

See this is why I hate white liberals. In one paragraph, Marc Hirsh manages to be more racist and clueless than the show he’s attacking.

Indians like Outsourced. Obviously they’re too filled with self-hate to know what’s good for them. They should go watch positive depictions of themselves on Big Bang Theory, where the Indian character is borderline psychotic, repressed, can’t talk to women and whose culture is used as a punch line every time. And whose land is mocked in almost every episode.

Please, why won’t those desis listen to Marc Hirsh. He knows what’s good for them.

It’s not a funny show.

It’s as funny as The Office or the rest of the bunch. The jokes come more from the character interplay, just like on the Office, than from classic setups and punchlines.

Where Outsourced goes wrong is in implicitly sympathizing with its main character. If Todd’s objectionable attitude dug him deeper and deeper, you’d have a show that had some of the same uncomfortable and/or dark humor of The Office or Arrested Development.

And why does a show have to be dark and uncomfortable? Not everything has to be cringe comedy. Since cringe comedy isn’t even very funny.

Also The Office sympathized with Michael way too much.

(Imagine if Arrested Development assumed that Gob was the hero.)

It would have been a much better show. Michael Bluth’s whining was constantly annoying. Tobias would have been better than Gob though.

Alternatively, if he was the one trying to adjust to his new surroundings (instead of trying to adjust his new surroundings to him), then you’d have a show maybe a little bit like Community, where he’s forced to be somewhere he doesn’t really want to be but has to make the most of it, even if it’s a struggle sometimes.

That’s something audiences can sympathize with, they’re not into watching Community either.

The writing is lazy and ham-handed. It uses every cheap trick that every bad sitcom has ever used. Right from the start, there might as well have been a giant flashing arrow over Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood) that read “THIS IS THE WOMAN THAT THE MAIN CHARACTER IS GOING TO FALL FOR, RIGHT HERE.”

Which is different from The Office how? Hey that Will Ferrell appearance last week was so nuanced. And Pam, who knew that was coming.

And would you believe that a character’s bachelor party results in his bride-to-be and her stern father walking in at the most compromising moment? It’s just so tiring. For me, that is. Clearly not for the writers.

Sure, I’m not one of those Doritos eating morons. I’m sophisticated. I like my comedy to be completely unpredictable. Like when Michael does something wacky every episode for seven years. Who can predict what he’ll do and that it will go wrong? No one! Absolutely no one.

And when Dwight shows up to work with a gun, can anyone predict that he’ll blow his manager position by discharging it in the office. No one. Because even though he’s gotten in trouble for using weapons in the office before and Chekov ‘s old gun adage remains, it’s fresh and original.

And yet, here I am. I’m so fascinated by how aggressively, angrily bad Outsourced was able to go that it’s mesmerizing in an utter-trainwreck sort of way. There’s not one thing about it that works, and yet, there it is, chugging along, with so many people involved in keeping it moving in the hopes that eventually something will spark. They’ve been basically pushing a dead car along the road, figuring that maybe if they pop the clutch just one more time, it’ll start up. And in the meantime, they’re killing themselves pushing.

Better known as 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Community. Hey if we talk up this crap some more, maybe somebody who doesn’t work in advertising in New York will finally tune in.

Prize for reading the comments where a few asians show up to defend the show, to be smugly told by the white NPR folks that they’re too stupid and ignorant to know what’s good for them.

Science Fiction TV’s Problem

Media Science Fiction is in an odd place right now. A huge percentage of movies and TV shows are Science Fiction, or use Science Fiction elements, but Science Fiction on TV is in hiding. A few shows like The Event that do get approved, quickly get canceled. The SciFi Channel has become the SyFy Channel and is jettisoning more of its Science Fiction program, replacing it with Reality TV, cooking shows and assorted junk. So why can’t Science Fiction TV succeed?

The problem comes from different angles. Viewer fragmentation and lower ratings should be rewarding committed fandoms, but fandoms have fragmented just as badly. There are different fandoms, and the Joss Whedon or Doctor Who brand command low audiences, and the fans who wanted Science Fiction go unrepresented. Scripted SciFi TV is also expensive. Why spend 3 million an episode, when you can get the same audience by just having a bunch of idiots running around a house screaming at fake ghosts. Most of all the content isn’t really there. Movie Science Fiction runs on IP’s. Games because Science Fiction settings are easy to do and cool. But TV doesn’t have a lot of Science Fiction IP’s to work with. And not a lot of original ideas either.

Terra Nova, Spielberg’s Dino Fetish Returns

Funny thing about this Terra Nova promo, the show only looks interesting for the first minute or so that it’s set in the future. The idea of people escaping a destroyed world by going into the past is a decent gimmick. But the show is just Jurassic Park in the past and there all interest is lost. Pretty scenery, dinos, family bonding and people causing problems. After the promo you know that you’re going to spend a lot of time being annoyed by the family, the Dinos aren’t that impressive anymore and human conflict will show that people can escape the future but they can’t escape the problems they cause. Dark Skies at least looks interesting because it thrusts characters into a less predictable situation. Terra Nova looks like Jurassic Park meets every show about families going to live in Africa or Hawaii or the West with more social commentary.

Dark Tower Falling

On the up side, no one will ever have to sit through Javier Bardem playing Roland. Down side, who knows it might have been good. Hard to say. Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman had an ambitious project in mind. Movies and TV shows interlinking. Maybe too ambitious. Walking Dead and Game of Thrones showed that Dark Tower could have probably worked on cable. But getting people to pay to see movies coming out of a cable show in between seasons of the cable show was a little too ambitious. Sure it may be the direction the industry is headed, everything converging on everything else, but more probably not. You need a major fan base to move a film based on a TV show and it helps to have some time for the TV to become a sentimental memory. Moving fluidly back and forth was tough. And I think Universal will finally just cut costs, turn into a cable series for AMC or FX and move on. Maybe a single movie at a much lower budget to launch the franchise.

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