Recent TV Headlines
Variety TV Resources
Considering that it doesn't hit the air until March 10, "Game Change" is getting a level of advance publicity that might be as high as it comes for an HBO movie, which is saying something. With Sarah Palin is its centerpiece, that was predictable, as is the fact that Palin defenders are shooting down the movie sight unseen.
Having seen "Game Change," which adapts a 50-page section from a 450-page book into a 120-minute movie, I can promise that the controversy isn't likely to end once the movie goes public, though I think the most incendiary aspect of it hasn't been the focal point of many advance stories.
The issue is not Palin's intellectual qualifications to be a heartbeat from the presidency. The degree of her ignorance might be debatable — did she really think that Queen Elizabeth runs British government, did she really not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II — but it's not as if the counter-argument is that she were some sort of stealth "Jeopardy" champion. And frankly, intellectual qualifications mattered little to a good chunk of the electorate then and seem to matter even less now.
However, the real bombshell in the book, and in turn the movie, is its speculation that Palin revealed herself to be mentally unstable. "Game Change" makes a pretty strong case for it, but among the dozens of sources interviewed by authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, screenwriter Danny Strong and director Jay Roach, none, as far as I know, was a mental health expert with primary access to Palin.
That Palin might be "on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown," as Woody Harrelson's Steve Schmidt says in the trailer above, is thusly expressed as a fear based on layman observations, not professional analysis. However reasonable that fear might be, the door is left open for Palin supporters to argue that the film is manipulating its audience with cheap shots. (Of course, I suppose that would happen even if a team of psychiatrists and psychologists offered the same conclusion.)
"Game Change" holds off from making any emphatic conclusions, instead letting the anecdotes speak for themselves. Still, that's not likely to stop Palin detractors who haven't read the book from being even more horrified by the idea of her in the Oval Office, nor stop Team Palin from thinking that "Game Change" is a bridge to nowhere in reality.
In other words, as far as ending the controversy surrounding Sarah Palin, a "Game Change" this isn't, no matter how reliable it is.
Stuart Levine's story that the Emmys might expand the number of series nominees in 2013 (to 10 for drama and another 10 for comedy) is intriguing.
I'm leaning toward being in favor of the concept. Yes, it does make a nomination more meaningful when you keep things tight — the uphill struggle of "Friday Night Lights" immediately comes to mind — but I'd rather have a little less meaning for my favorite shows being nominated than a lot more frustration when they are ignored.
And while a critically acclaimed but little-watched show might have trouble getting attention during nomination season, a spot in the Emmy finals could provide a valuable boost. I even wonder if it might keep a bubble show on the air. Would you have canceled "Freaks and Geeks" in the spring if you believed it would get an Emmy nom in the summer? "Emmy nominee 'Community,'" anyone?
I feel like I could find 10 truly worthwhile drama nominees pretty quickly. Ten comedy nominees might be more of a stretch, but would still probably be good for the ceremony.
So frankly, I'm having trouble seeing why you don't do this. You still end up with only one winner. And if the Academy is feeling randy, it could have Ryan Seacrest eliminate five of the nominees midway through the show.
The more immediate and definite news reported by our fair Stu is that "Downton Abbey" will be in the drama category (along with "Luther") this year — something that also seems right.
It's understandable why "Downton" was labeled a miniseries originally — in its origins, it was hardly different from any other PBS "Masterpiece" production that ends up in the category. But with a third season already ordered, the argument that the recently completed second season should remain labeled "miniseries" grew thin.
"Luther," whose second go-round consisted of only four episodes with barely a shred of the publicity that "Downton" has received, would have been more easily to forgive as a returning miniseries. It's hard to imagine it won't fall victim to what will definitely be a high-powered Emmy drama race this year.
All this also means that the path to Emmy recognition for "The Hour" and stars Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw has grown considerably more clear in 2012, when it will be in the miniseries category. But like its British friends, "The Hour" will probably find its second season (airing this year for Emmy consideration in 2013) called a drama series.
Keep in mind that no matter what the TV Academy does with its series categories, the other Emmy categories would remain at five nominees apiece. That means Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Idris Elba and friends will be in the thick of this year's thesp fray for drama.
Last but not least: Don't forget that after a one-year absence, "Breaking Bad" will return to Emmy eligibility this year. It's going to be quite a nominations season ...
Jimmy Fallon's 2010 hosting gig helped rescue the Emmys creatively.
Without belaboring the multifaceted criticisms of Sunday's Oscar broadcast that have filled the media, I do think there's a point that gets lost in the shuffle.
It has now been four years since the film academy has handed the ceremony reins to a contemporary television personality and let him or her fly. The closest was in 2010, when Alec Baldwin of "30 Rock" shared the emcee emissary with Steve Martin.
This cuts to the heart of the Oscar broadcast dilemma, which is whether to play for the room in the theater or play for the crowd gathered around television sets. Not to go all Spock on you, but it seems obvious that the needs of the many should outweigh the needs of the few. Oscar ceremony-goers are a captive audience where attendance is its own reward; Oscar television viewers are not. At the end of the day, the Oscars are a television show and should be treated as such.
Instead of vascillating between the Oscars as a filmed stage show and the Oscars as a live TV show, there needs to be a commitment to the latter. And you start with a host who is at the top of his game in television.
That is not Billy Crystal, not Eddie Murphy, not Anne Hathaway or James Franco and not Hugh Jackman, the folks who have been tapped to host in the past three years.
It's not that those people don't have their strengths. (Even in the justifiably maligned ceremony a year ago doesn't take away from the personal charisma of Hathaway and Franco.) The problem, however, is that the need to play to those strengths risks sending the entire production off course.
The bargain with Crystal speaks for itself — you know what you're going to get, but it's not going to be particularly inventive or timely. Tapping into the moment is what keeps viewers glued to their seats, but the film folk, including those with long-ago roots in TV, by and large just don't bring it to television.
And even when you have relative TV veterans like longtime "Saturday Night Live" hosts Baldwin and Martin, you can feel that smallscreen savvy being marginalized in an attempt to make the broadcast more cinematic, or something — it can be hard to tell what the Oscars going for.
I'm tired of TV-centric hosts, from David Letterman to Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart, being tossed aside because they had to cater to "the room." Each of them was snappy in a way Crystal could have only dreamed of Sunday — I'll even take Letterman's "Uma-Oprah" moment over anything from this year's event.
When you put your ceremony on television, your first duty is to the viewers. That means you get someone who is at the top of his or her game at working that audience, and that you don't sandbag that effort by forcing elements into the show that don't fit the personality of the host or a winning TV program. You don't bring in someone like Stewart and then push him aside for a nostalgic clip package (outside of a classy "In Memoriam" presentation) that resembles one every Oscar viewer has seen before. You bring him in because he and his team know what works for TV, even when you, the producers, don't.
The small bump in viewership the Oscars received this year doesn't eliminate the shortcomings of the kudocast. It's two years in a row now that the Oscars have basically felt dead inside, where the teams behind Jimmy Kimmel after the show, Neil Patrick Harris on the Tonys or Jimmy Fallon on the Emmys has outpaced anything Oscar night has delivered in recent memory — both in scripted and unscripted bits.
(And as you can see, this hardly means you can't do musical numbers. But it means that if you do musical numbers, you let the people who know the modern TV audience best decide whether they'll succeed.)
A TV-centric production isn't guaranteed to be flawless by any stretch, but it is your best chance of producing something memorable for the right reasons.
Get Stephen Colbert or Craig Ferguson. Get Stewart or DeGeneres. Get Harris, Fallon or Kimmel. Get Tina Fey or Amy Poehler. Get the people who aren't beholden to the film industry, who are the best in the medium you are actually broadcasting in, and let them design the show — not just parts of the show, but the show from top to bottom. Get the people who would make the award of any Oscar category a delight. Stop pretending that your tiny contemporary experience in TV supersedes what the best in the TV industry can offer.
1) Twitter universe, you need to stop from freaking out every time an NBC sitcom takes a break from the air. The latest uproar came today, when the Peacock's midseason shuffling revealed that "Parks and Recreation" would take a six-week siesta during March-April. There is basically no significance to this. Network shows do not get 39-episode orders, so the only thing you're not going to see from "Parks" is more repeats.
It doesn't matter if a midseason break is handed to a show that is guaranteed to run the entire year. What matters is whether that show gets picked up for the following season.
2) If you do need a fix of good news for "Parks," you can find it in its timeslot beginning April 19, when it finally gets to air at 9:30 p.m. with "The Office" as a lead-in. I'm not saying it will have a dramatic effect on the "Parks" ratings, but it's certainly better than airing behind "The Office."
Despite declining ratings in its eighth season, "The Office" remains NBC's anchor comedy. There's no better time than the spring for "Parks" to show signs of inheriting that title. (For reference: "Up All Night" lost more than 30% of its "Office" lead-in last week.)
3) The real pressure, of course, is on "Community," though no one could expect its ratings to improve while being stuck in the same 8 p.m. Thursday timeslot for its stretch run, opposite not only "The Big Bang Theory" but also "American Idol." I've been worried that "Community" wouldn't get a fourth-season order almost since its third season began, and still can't understand why NBC continues to pit it against CBS' popular "Big Bang," which (though different in style) caters to a similar demographic.
NBC really should put the known quanitity that is "30 Rock" at 8 p.m. and let "Community" have a more protected slot at 8:30, one that would allow same-night viewers to slide seamlessly from "Big Bang" to Dan Harmon's brilliantly daffy enterprise. Again, the ratings impact isn't likely to be dramatic, but at least "Community" would have a better chance to improve. Either way, it would really be a shame if NBC lost one of its most inventive shows after only three seasons.
4) The past few weeks of "Big Bang" might be my favorite stretch ever. The only competition would be back in late season one or early season two — I'm not looking it up — when the full genius of Jim Parsons was first becoming apparent. And I've definitely been a fan of the way the show has expanded to incorporate its female cast. But the show has just been really strong of late, rejuvenated by the new stage in Leonard and Penny's relationship.
I am wondering when, if ever, Penny (Kaley Cuoco) will get some kind of real break in her acting career. I feel like the time is coming ... or should be.
5) I'll do something here I'll almost never do, which is say something negative about "Parks and Recreation." As excited as I was for the return of Louis C.K., I wasn't happy with how his character Dave acted toward Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) in the episode — which was basically, nuts.
I didn't doubt Dave's feelings for Leslie — their arc together was one of the early highlights in the show's history — or even that he might be a little desperate for her, but to make him so deluded, if not even slightly deranged, was such a turnoff that it just about killed my desire to see C.K. come back for any future appearances.
That doesn't take away from how good "Parks" remains overall.
6) Similarly, I know there were flaws in the second season of "Downton Abbey," but let's not lose the forest for the trees. It was another rousing year for the (so-called) miniseries. And please don't call it a glorified soap — no soap has the depth of "Downton." Just because dramatic things happen with characters doesn't make a series a soap opera.
Now that the finale has aired, I can properly call out the scene that left me so floored that I've watched it again and again, perhaps more than any other in TV this season: Lady Mary and Lord Grantham discussing her future. Michelle Dockery's performance in this scene (beginning 30 seconds into the clip below), the culmination of her season-long greatness, should make her as worthy an Emmy candidate as anyone around.
7) I was contemplating what the most improved shows of 2011-12 were at this point in the season, though in some cases, I'm not sure if it's that the show improved or I simply got more used to what they were doing. In any event, I'd say the winners are Fox's "New Girl," for the way the supporting cast (especially Max Greenfield's Schmidt) has blossomed, and ABC's "Suburgatory," for the way its cartoon world has become more meaningful and resonant.
8) Don't try to tell me "Modern Family" has slipped. Just don't even try. Because you will fail. It's not perfect, but the first season wasn't perfect, either. Just great, then and now.
9) I agree with the substance of my colleague Andrew Wallenstein's critique of NBC's "Smash." The show simply has problems, not with its basic premise but with its execution — namely its spotty plotting, sometimes overly simplistic, other times utterly unbelievable.
It was after episode four of Fox's "Glee" that I abandoned the show, which like "Smash" I truly wanted to like. That was the episode which involved the football team breaking into a "Single Ladies" dance before kicking a field goal, in an episode that otherwise wanted us to take things very seriously, and while I know "Glee" was never supposed to be the height of reality, this was the scene that verified that it would be way too preposterously all-over-the-map for me. I was done.
I've seen four episodes of "Smash," including next week's, and I'm not close to giving up on it, but it does have so many fault lines that I wonder how much I'll ever really enjoy it.
That being said, I'm a little surprised that the audience for "Smash" has continued to decline. Despite its problems, there is a likability to the show, and I would expect more people would find it rewarding. It speaks to two of NBC's ongoing problems: a) Viewers, by and large, don't seem to give that network the benefit of the doubt, and b) the quality of NBC's 2011-12 shows has not been enough to get critics banging the drum, the way they have done in the past for something like "Friday Night Lights." NBC's rebuilding process is going to take a long time no matter what, but it's going to take even longer if the programs aren't unassailably strong.
10) Which brings us to "Awake," which premieres March 1. Having now seen the first three episodes, I feel confident in saying this is NBC's best freshman show of 2011-12. Its tone is almost lyrically dark — I'm trying to think of a good comp; right now the best I can come up with is "Once and Again," but I'll keep trying — so I can't find any reason to think it will break a 2.0 rating among viewers 18-49. But really, if there's any drama that NBC is going to ride out some rough ratings with, "Awake" should be it. This is a show that's going to need time to build up a base, a show that becomes one that viewers take time to even discover, let alone try out.
11) Wrapping things up, I'll hold off any real critique of "Game Change," the upcoming HBO movie that crams a 50-page section of a 450-page book into a 120-minute film, until after our Variety critic Brian Lowry reviews it. For now, I'll just say that I liked it, and that I can only see one aspect of it that would be particularly controversial. I look forward to talking about it if I don't put myself back on hiatus again ...
If you're like me, you have fond memories of the Monty Python-infused "Secret Policeman's Ball" events from decades past. To mark Amnesty International's 50th anniversary, a new version of "The Secret Policeman's Ball" is returning, telecast and live-streamed by Epix on March 4.
The list of performers includes Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Russell Brand, David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, John Oliver, Rashida Jones, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Wiig and many more.
Above, a clip from the "Ball" archives, featuring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
Another week, another decline for "Smash," the highly anticipated midseason series for which NBC had high hopes. The third episode Monday registered a 2.3 rating in the demo, an 18% decline vs. the previous week, which itself dropped 27% from the impressive premiere ratings.
Debate all you want whether this should be a disappointment or not for NBC, but this much is indisputable: "Smash" is not hanging onto the audience that first sampled it. That may be a surprise to those who thought a great cast and terrific music would keep the series humming along.
So what's wrong with "Smash," a behind-the-curtain look at the formation of a fictional musical? Let me posit a theory rooted in a creative decision at the very heart of the show--one that may prompt the execs responsible for it to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they got blinded by their own reflection.
Here's the problem: "Smash" spends way too much time focusing on the producers, the quartet of characters played by Debra Messing, Christian Borle, Anjelica Huston and Jack Davenport. The narrative should have been more centered on the ingenue singer-dancer played by Katharine McPhee--the woman "Smash" marketing materials leads you to believe is the star of the series, but really isn't.
The problem manifests in the very first scene of the premiere episode--McPhee sings rapturously at an audition in front of producers who couldn't seem more jaded. Viewers are set up for the same character dynamic that has animated every great inside-the-production story from "A Chorus Line" to "Black Swan": the struggling performers up against the cold-hearted puppeteers who pull their strings in pursuit of artistic perfection.
But from there "Smash" takes a detour from which it never deviates. In this series, the producers AND the performers are the underdogs we have to pull for as they attempt to pull off "Marilyn: The Musical."
And therein lies a twofold problem. First, if you're not in the entertainment industry, producers are an inherently uninteresting lot. "Smash" may be great at capturing the process that goes into making a musical, but not so good at getting at why average Joes should get a vicarious thrill from witnessing their efforts. Three episodes of Messing and Borle trading psychobabble-laden banter about Who Is Marilyn Monroe Really? with the import of the national debt crisis isn't going to cut it.
All in all, the "Marilyn" producers are a pampered, petulant bunch who seem to treat putting on a play as if it was their divinely ordained destiny, a high-class problem that probably doesn't resonate much with an economically strapped U.S. audience. There's no sense of the stakes for these characters--a basic building block for good drama.
Secondly, the way some of these characters are drawn practically dare you to take a rooting interest in them. Take Messing's character, Julia, in particular. Three episodes in, we've learned: 1. Taking on the "Marilyn" project has alienated her husband to whom she swore she'd take the year off from producing in order to focus on adopting a child (a subplot painfully wedged into the show to give her a shred of humanity) 2. She harshly treats Ellis, a young man who is her partner's assistant (although she's unaware he's plotting against her) 3. She had an extramarital affair with the guy she just cast in her musical for the part of Joe DiMaggio.
Are you in her corner yet? Go, Julia!
Julia is unlikable in so many ways that you have to wonder whether that the very reason Messing--a good comic actress who radiates likability--is in the part in a futile attempt to change this leopard's spots. But it doesn't work.
Same goes for Huston, whose character comes across as deluded after viewers learn she doesn't actually have the ability to finance anything because all her assets were frozen in escrow as she negotiates her bitter divorce. Who doesn't love this veteran actress, but her character's conflict with her wealthy ex-husband is so overheated that we see her throw a drink in his face in three different restaurants where they just happen to bump into each other. Because everyone knows Manhattan only has about a handful of restaurants--especially for rich people.
"Smash" really is the story of the "Marilyn" producers more so than McPhee's character, Karen, who should be the focal point but is left fighting for screen time. That makes for a jarring disconnect between how the series is promoted and what it actually is. But the bigger problem is that "Smash" would have more dramatic horsepower if it stuck to watching a plucky heroine go up against the Big Bad System rather than wasting time making the cogs of said system into characters in their own right.
And if "Smash" really just had to make the producers into protagonists, the series would probably have been better served depicting a story right out of the real-life Jonathan Larson production "Rent": a hardy group of outsiders who bootstrapped their own off-off-Broadway musical by breaking all the rules, up-ending the traditional theater world in the process. That way there's characters who don't seem like spoiled brats.
And this is where an uncomfortable question must be asked: Do the various producers and execs responsible for putting "Smash" on the air bear blame for overestimating the appeal of characters who just happen to be producers and execs themselves? Perhaps there's some narcissism in not seeing that characters who basically function as fictional proxies for themselves may not be quite as interesting as they consider themselves to be.
Because if Moonves follows through on the deal he indicated could happen on his company's fourth-quarter earnings call Tuesday, he may very well be creating a monster.
The prospect of CBS producing for Netflix has all the makings of a cool horror flick: A genius gone mad with delight over new revenues hitting his bottom line commits a tragic overreach, unwittingly unleashing a destructive force that harms his business.
The reason a CBS-bred series on Netflix is so scary is that in success such a production could not only elevate a corporate frenemy but damage CBS Corp.-owned Showtime in the process. And yes, even the mighty broadcast network itself isn't entirely protected.
There has been a delicate dance between Netflix and the entertainment industry over the past 12 months in which the studios have been careful about enriching themselves with deals that supply the streaming service with their content, but not so much so that they empower a colossus capable of harming them.
And CBS knows this dynamic better than anyone: The company has been admirably aggressive about licensing its library content in a way Wall Street has come to appreciate. CBS has also known when to withdraw from Netflix as well, removing all but older seasons of Showtime original programming last March--just weeks after the streaming service announced its first original production, "House of Cards."
Which makes it somewhat difficult to follow the logic that yanking in-season episodes of "Dexter" is a savvy defensive move but handing over an original series that could very well give Netflix a "Dexter" of its own is AOK. As HBO has shown with "The Sopranos," all it takes is one show to deliver a quantum leap for a programming service.
And yet Moonves made clear in his reference to a possible deal on CBS Corp.'s 4Q call, that he sees this in terms of volume: "Until they are doing 22 hours a week of premium content, we do not look at them as a competitor, but rather another place to put our content."
"22 hours" is a reference to the potent primetime schedule he's assembled at CBS. Putting aside the fact that he seems to have forgotten about Showtime, from which a subscriber could easily shift his monthly fee over to Netflix if it becomes a preferable option, is the mighty Eye even safe? Think back to Netflix's own most recent earnings call, when CEO Reed Hastings noted that his company is streaming 2 billion hours over the course of the fourth quarter--enough to make Netflix the 15th highest rated TV network, according to calculations by BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield.
Now that may still not be enough to match a juggernaut like the CBS comedy "Big Bang Theory," but isn't helping even incremental competition a bad thing in a world of multiplying options? Like all networks these days, CBS already has to compete with itself in the form of DVR-recorded versions of its own programming, why open up a whole new front?
Moonves is open to the idea for the same reason the studio arm of any broadcaster is open to producing series for its rivals to buy: The reward of participating in the profits of a hit even on an outside network outweighs any competitive drawback. That's why Universal Television, the studio sister to NBC, has recommitted itself to producing series for others than the Peacock, having already reaped the benefits of examples like "House," which is winding down a lucrative run over at Fox.
But with "House," at worst NBC is conceding a time slot to a competitor. With Netflix, CBS could accelerate the rise of a whole new tier of competition.
If CBS' studio sister, CBS Television Studios, is the entity to which Moonves is alluding to regarding producing for Netflix, it would be odd considering that division has been very conservative about producing for any company in which it doesn't have at least partial ownership. And it's not like CBS Corp. has struck the bottom of the barrel in terms of catalog content it could sell; Moonves has said the company has barely scratched that surface.
It's probably no coincidence that CBS is the only content company talking about producing originals for Netflix. Three of its fellow conglomerates, News Corp., Disney and NBCUniversal, have a vested interest in making sure its own entry in the subscription VOD space, Hulu Plus, doesn't see its competition get too powerful. And Time Warner is probably even lesser inclined to produce for Netflix given its been so protective of crown jewel asset HBO that it recently stopped even selling DVDs of the pay cabler's content to Netflix at a discounted rate.
Maybe CBS is the victim of its own success here. The network is so strong in primetime right now that its studio is probably capable of producing more new product than the Eye might actually need. But if the company isn't careful, it could be greenlighting a whole new horror show off the air, too.
Even before the second season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" completed its three-episode(!) reunion special, the rumors were already flying about who from the cast is in or out next season: Camille won't have her contract renewed! Lisa is getting her own show! These casting decisions won't be easy for Bravo; while the multi-woman wipeout the network performed on the New York edition excised that series’ most toxic cast members like a cancerous lesion, Beverly Hills will require trickier surgery. Maybe these unsolicited recommendations will help Bravo figure out who should stay and who should go.
Camille Grammer: Either Camille the Chameleon is saving her multiple-personality disorder diagnosis for next season or she decided to become a completely different person this time around. Gone was the ice queen whose steely facade was put to the test last year as Bravo cameras captured the dissolution of her marriage to Kelsey Grammer. In its place was the sympathetic martyr who was unfailingly genial all season--and totally boring. Guessing which Camille is real is besides the point; she has become so self-conscious about how she's depicted that there's no point to her continuing anymore. The one interesting thing that happened to her at the very end of the season--she got a boyfriend--played out entirely off camera; if not even that is fair game, she truly has nothing left to offer.
Lisa Vanderpump: She's the show's nucleus, but does she really have Bethenny-like breakout potential on her own? Doubtful. What makes Lisa so compelling is the way the other women in this cast orbit around her as she vacillates between regal condescension and den mother. To pull her out would be like replacing a planet with a black hole, destabilizing the entire production. That said, let's hope Bravo finds a better storyline than the excruciating detail to which viewers had to experience the planning of Lisa's daughter's wedding. It was only amusing when kooky wedding planner Kevin Lee was on air--now he's someone who should get his own show.
Adrienne Maloof: She continues to be exceptionally consistent when it comes to acting sensible, smart and grounded--so what business does she having being on a reality show? You could make the case that Maloof no longer belongs on Bravo but there's two reasons you're wrong: 1) Perhaps the wisest move the show made this year was to increase her husband Paul's screen time because their Lockhorns-like dynamic is hilarious 2) The reunion made clear that her bond with Lisa is getting shaky, and watching that relationship unravel as Lisa seems to be forging an unlikely friendship with Brandi is the kind of love triangle on which you can build an entire season.
Kim Richards: This is a tough one. She was the consummate train wreck this season as she futilely tried to hide her addiction problems, acting erratic at every turn, which was highly entertaining. But now that she's been through rehab, you could argue that she's going to be as boring as Camille. That's not going to happen though. As the reunion made clear, even a sober Kim is not exactly stable. Her return to the show would bring an element of suspense given there's no way her effort to stay on the wagon is going to go smoothly no matter how hard she tries.
Kyle Richards: Kyle is essential because the story of the "Housewives" seems to be filtered more through her sarcastic observations than anyone else in the series. She also seems to cry on camera more than anyone else, but therein lies a weakness in her appeal: If for some reason the main source of her tears, sister Kim, doesn't return, that makes Kyle about 50% less interesting. Perhaps after making Kyle out to be Ms. Perfect for the past two seasons, Bravo can find some cracks in the facade and shake things up a bit in her life.
Brandi Glanville: There's probably a lot of people hoping she doesn't return because of how polarizing a presence she was in her rookie season, but that would be a big mistake; her very divisiveness is the reason she needs to be upgraded to full-time status. The other women put her through hell but her inability to control the passageway from her brain to her mouth made her trial by fire endlessly enjoyable. If there was a weakness to Brandi, it's that she wasn't given much to do beyond being a pin cushion for the other women. What she should be doing is taking on the storyline Camille was meant to have but dodged: the search for a new man after a divorce. Not only will she be back, but she's probably the future of the franchise.
Dana Wilkey: Yes, she provided the season's biggest laughs between her $25,000 sunglasses proclamation and her game-night suck-up to Kyle Richards. But the fact that she barely had any screen time beyond those episodes is evidence enough that the chemistry just isn't there with the other women the way it was for the other woman with quasi-Housewife status, Brandi. See-ya, Dana.
Taylor Armstrong: This is the toughest call of all. Her abusive relationship with husband Russell Armstrong, who went on to draw national headlines by committing suicide before the season began, might seem to make her a magnet for attention, but let's take a closer look. Yes, you could make the case that there will be tremendous interest in seeing how Taylor manages to put her life back together. And she is a compelling character because there's such a paradox at the core of her personality: She's both an extremely emotionally damaged being and a fairly intelligent, articulate person. But there's also huge risk here that Taylor is going to pull a Camille and act so guardedly going forward that it will negate her reason for being on the show. Nevertheless, let's give this poor soul the benefit of the doubt and keep her on another season. But that's just another reason Bravo should shelve Camille: It will send Taylor a message that nursing a victim complex isn't the way to ensure longevity on the network.
Frank Langella and Christopher Plummer have signed on to play Supreme Court justices in “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” an original telepic HBO is developing.
Langella will play Chief Justice Warren Berger in the Stephen Frears-directed project, while Plummer will play Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan II.
Shawn Slovo penned the script, which depicts the machinations of the Supreme Court as Ali pursued conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. Ali was convicted by a Houston court in 1967 and spent three years exiled from the ring as his case journeyed to the Supreme Court.
Frank Doelger, Tracey Scoffield, Jonathan Cameron and Frears are exec producing, with Scott Ferguson producing.
Ben Falcone, husband of the Oscar-nominated actress (“Bridesmaids”), is attached to star in the untitled half-hour as a 37-year-old man who loses everything he has in the real-estate collapse and finds himself back home in the house he grew up in with his parents. Falcone is also attached as an executive producer along with Larry Dorf (“Mad TV”).
Pilot was based on a spec script. McCarthy and Falcone have a second pilot in consideration at the Eye as well.
NBC is taking a hourlong pilot order based on “The Munsters” franchise out of the running for the fall 2012-13 schedule in order to give it extra attention, according to sources.
Now called “Mockingbird Lane,” the pilot was ordered last November from Universal Television and creator Bryan Fuller (“Pushing Daisies”). Shooting has been pushed to the summer, which means “Lane” will be considered for next midseason.
Sources say the network felt the series needed more time to get the elements just right for what NBC envisions being a key project for them.
A Peacock spokesman declined comment.
Encore has postponed the premiere of four-part miniseries ''The Crimson Petal and the White' from March to September.
Starring Romola Garai (''The Hour''), Chris O'Dowd, Gillian Anderson, Shirley Henderson and Richard E. Grant, the adaptation of Michel Faber's novel is set in a Victorian-era London brothel.
Lucinda Coxon wrote the adaptation, directed by Marc Munden. David M. Thompson is producing. It aired last year in the U.K. on BBC Two.
In contrast to previous years, which focused on a single guest over the course of a season such as Ray Romano, Charles Barkley and Rush Limbaugh, golf coach Hank Haney will work with the four different celebrities.
At the end of the season, the four will compete against each other for the chance to win $100,000 for the charity of their choice.
Who can forget the way the fate of Tony Soprano was left up in the air when "The Sopranos" finale abruptly faded to black. But what fans may not recall was the uncertain end to another "Sopranos" character, Silvio Dante, who was last seen in a coma in an intensive care unit after being shot. Whether he lived or died, we'll never know.
Maybe it's our hazy collective recollection of what happened to Steven Van Zandt's character that figured into Netflix's decision to cast him as the star of "Lilyhammer," which premiered Monday on the streaming service. Van Zandt's new role is so close to his old one, it's almost as if Dante woke from his coma, turned government informant and decamped for Lillehammer to escape from the Mafia he betrayed.
That's the basic storyline to "Lilyhammer," only now the Mafioso played by Van Zandt (seen above with former "Sopranos" cast mate Tony Sirico) is Frank "The Fixer" Stagliano, who heads for Scandinavia after ratting out the mob.
It doesn’t feel coincidental that Netflix chose Van Zandt to anchor its first original series. Company founder Reed Hastings has been very public about his desire to position Netflix as the next HBO, with original programming at the heart of its brand proposition rather than the catalog content that dominated its first decade.
What better way to recast consumer perception of Netflix than in the mold of both an actor and a role unearthed from HBO. It's a strangely paradoxical notion, beating the "Sopranos" channel to the future by seizing a piece of its past.
That said, it's not really a new strategy. Robert Greenblatt essentially did the same thing in his remarkable turnaround of Showtime, where as programming chief he launched several of the service's most successful series on the backs of HBO-bred talent including "Dexter's" Michael C. Hall ( "Six Feet Under") and "Nurse Jackie's" Edie Falco ("Sopranos").
Granted, Van Zandt is nowhere near their echelon; think of him as a low-budget version for a company that isn't spending more than 5% of its billion-plus programming budget on originals. It would even be a stretch to call Van Zant a character actor; he's more a caricature actor, sticking to such a stereotypical rendering of a Mafioso that he'll probably never get the chance to play anything else.
Sure, Van Zandt isn't depicting exactly the same character he played on "Sopranos"; HBO isn’t about to license a spinoff to an aspiring rival. But "Lilyhammer" is something of a crypto-spinoff in that the actor's character is so similar to his "Sopranos" incarnation that it might as well be the same part. Hell, Kelsey Grammer displayed more of a character evolution moving from "Cheers" to "Frasier" than Van Zandt does from "Sopranos" to "Lilyhammer."
Shamelessly derivative? Sure. But “Lilyhammer” is also a shrewd bridge strategy for getting viewers to shift their sense of Netflix as a pay-TV service that just happens not to be on TV in the strictest definition of the medium.
Which isn’t to say there’s anything inherently innovative about "Lilyhammer." The witness protection agency is among the hoariest plot devices in comedy, and the series doesn't do anything to put a particularly new spin on it. We watch Frank build a new life in his frozen city with the same bluster and verve he negotiated life as a gangster despite the fact Lillehamer feels like Mars to him--and vice versa.
But the newly rechristened Giovanni Henrisken has barely been in town more than 24 hours before he attempts to bribe a Norwegian official. The series thrusts its protagonist into his new environment so fast you would have assumed Netflix feared “Lilyhammer” would be canceled midway through the first episode.
In an interesting departure from TV standard operating procedure, Netflix puts all eight episodes of "Lilyhammer's" season on the service at once. It's not the kind of series you'll want to plow through in one sitting, though chances are you won't push it too far down in your Netflix queue, either.
"Lilyhammer" is no "Sopranos" in either the artistic or commercial sense but that doesn’t remotely mean Netflix failed here. The real takeaway is that the series isn’t bad. That might sound like the faintest of praises, but it's actually a compliment the TV industry should take heed of because there's a new programming alternative in town making the kind of sensible choices that could lead to future success.
Given Netflix's recent track record, competence wasn't necessarily a safe presumption. The calamitous pricing decisions the company made in late 2011 indicated it was capable of wild miscalculation on any front. And on paper, "Lilyhammer" could be interpreted as another missed swing: Financing a heavily subtitled series about a mobster in the witness relocation program produced in that hotbed of TV creativity we call Norway? Really??
If this sounds like a broad comedy, "Lilyhammer" actually plays with a little more subtlety than you might expect. The local yokels aren't the usual assortment of oddballs that populate these fish-out-of water tales; no one in Lillehammer seems stranger than Fra--sorry, Giovanni--and there's no laugh track to underscore the biggest yuks. My favorite moment was a small joke when a gruff old man puts down an injured sheep but not before telling Giovanni to avert his gaze. "You better turn away, you being a city boy," he says, oblivious to Giovanni's mob past.
It’s a joke that underscores a pretty big difference between Van Zandt’s new character and his old one, who was the polar opposite of a turncoat: Silvio Dante was the guy Tony Soprano often ordered to whack the snitches in their own midst, from Adriana La Cerva to James Altieri.
Now if Netflix can use him to kill old notions of its company brand, he’ll have truly made his bones.
Inside of three weeks comes the Super Bowl of entertainment: the Oscars. Sometimes bashed, somewhat broken, the Oscars still command by far the most attention of any award show. Last year's Oscar broadcast drew 37.6 million, compared with 12.4 million for their smallscreen counterpart, the Emmys.
But if you mixed film and television in the same awards competition, you might find that TV is more deserving of accolades. Call me biased over here at Variety On the Air, but if I were putting together a personal film-TV top 20 from the past year in under 10 minutes, it might look something like this. (TV shows in italics.)
1) "Breaking Bad"
2) "Friday Night Lights"
4) "Parks and Recreation"
5) "Downton Abbey"
6) "The Artist"
10) "The Hour"
12) "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
14) "A Separation"
17) "The Big Bang Theory"
18) "The Descendants"
19) "Boardwalk Empire"
Don't get too caught up in the line-by-line rankings. Like I said, this was a quick-and-dirty list, and I already want to start tinkering. In any case, we all have our idiosyncracies, so no one's picks would be the same as these.
The point is: TV more than holds its own, taking 12 spots in the top 20, seven in the top 10 and four in the top five. Overall, I'd think many connisseurs of both film and TV would have similar balance, whichever projects they picked. I have trouble seeing the case that film had a better 2011 than TV.
Am I comparing apples and orangutans? Perhaps. TV gets hours and hours to tell its stories, film gets two, three at most. But what we're talking about with these award shows, really, is appreciation. And so when you think about it, it's more than a little weird, or at least unfortunate, that TV is so much less appreciated than film by awards viewers.
Fox has posted an interactive, extended version of the theme song from Zooey Deschanel starrer "New Girl" that lets you choose the scenes of the video accompanying the tune. Check it out here.
Through its subject matter and NBC's all-in promotional effort for its premiere tonight, "Smash" (reviewed by Brian Lowry of Variety here) is going to inspire a lot of passionate love-it-or-hate-it reaction. So let me be the one to stake out the territory of mixed feelings.
That ambivalence isn't out of lack of interest in the show. This is a show that I very much want to like, set in a world that I'd be very happy to spend years being a part of. That being said, based on the first two episodes of the show, "Smash" is a program filled with winning moments one minute and clunkers the next.
The performances are strong across the board. As was clear based on the preview clips screened at last year's network upfronts, "Smash" gives Katharine McPhee her Jennifer Hudson moment. This is the last time anyone's going to call her "former 'American Idol' finalist" as opposed to "'Smash' star." (Hopefully, as far as NBC's concerned, "former 'Smash' star" doesn't come for a while.) But it's not just McPhee — in the large ensemble, there isn't anyone who isn't convincing in his or her role.
The storytelling, overall, succeeds in that each episode ends leaving you eager to see the next. But within in each episode, there are groaners.
Category 1: Cliche. There are some characterizations and plot devices that you can see coming a mile away. They aren't fatal to the show, but they're disappointing. Some of them are too familiar, but at least ring true. Others are not only familiar but seem completely phony — that's when you risk fans tuning out.
Category 2: The music. The way that song is integrated into the show is first-rate. The songs themselves ... I'm not so sure.
There are showpiece numbers in each of the first two episodes that I could see Mel Brooks parodying in the 1970s — in other words, they would have seemed dated 40 years ago. The show's premise of a Broadway show on Marilyn Monroe makes total sense, but right now, the musical itself looks like it would be pretty bleah. (This is a milder form of the "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" problem that NBC had in 2006, when the characters kept insisting how brilliant their latenight show was, yet could provide no evidence of that.)
It's particuarly important, even as it celebrates traditional Broadway, for "Smash" to feel original and inventive. It's in those moments that millions of viewers won't be able to turn away, and NBC's major investment in the welfare of this series will be justified. The first two episodes offer enough of this to keep viewers intrigued — at this point, "Smash" is a welcome complement or alternative (depending on your point of view) to "The Voice," "American Idol" and "Glee." And frankly, even if the show isn't worthy of blind love, its qualified creative success should be enough to launch the show for a multiyear run, even on a network that has had as much trouble launching scripted hours as NBC.
More samplings of "Downton Abbey" fever, from "Friday Night with Jonathan Ross" ...
Between Facebook filing for IPO and the hacker activities of Anonymous, it's a good time to be Charles Koppelman. The filmmaker has had a documentary crew stationed at Facebook headquarters on and off since May 2011 filming the company's security team as it protects the social network from cyber-attacks and other invasions for his upcoming docu "Zero Day."
"The people in the trenches there are very dynamic, there's some very interesting personal stories," said Koppelman.
Timely as the documentary could be--no distribution deal yet--it's kept Koppelman plenty busy. His crew has to race to the company's Palo Alto digs every time Facebook security team has to contend with a major threat, as it did last month when the notorious Koobface malware wreaked havoc on the social network. And if there's a hero in the doc, it may be Facebook chief security officer Joe Sullivan, who was previously the first federal prosecutor in a U.S. Attorneys' office working on high-tech crime cases.
Sorry, you won't see much of founder Mark Zuckerberg in the doc though; he literally ducked into a mini-kitchen when the camera came his way during filming one day.
A Facebook spokesman confirmed Koppelman's crew has been granted inside access to the company's operations. But a documentary on cyber-crime has also taken his cameras all over the globe, and the action they've seen has even inspired them to adapt the material into a primetime TV series that they've already begun pitching.
"When these stories go outside of Facebook, and you see what's basically old-fashioned detective work, you see the possibilities," said Koppelman. "That’s why it translates to a series as well."
Yet, he recalls a moment being on national television where he was a bundle of frayed nerves — an absolute wreck that left him a completely frazzled state.
The irony, however, is that there was no microphone in sight.
Michaels was playing golf with buddy and CBS chieftan Leslie Moonves at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, telecast by the Eye. The camera’s red light was directly on Michaels, who was simultaneously thinking about his shot while hoping not be utterly embarrassed if he happened to whiff at it. Michaels was so nervous, he could barely grip the club, having to eventually step away from ball and asking the crowd, “Anyone have a Valium”?
Nobody did, but the remark calmed Michaels’ nerves enough that he hit a beautiful shot.
Michaels, a member of Bel Air Country Club, is a passionate golfer and can be often be found on the course when he’s not in the NBC booth with Cris Collinsworth. There’s little doubt either of them will have time for a round this weekend as they will be calling the action for Sunday’s super-hyped Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and New York Giants.
The Brooklyn-born sports legend is associated with the NFL as much as Tom Brady, Buddy Ryan or the Lambeau Leap. He’s someone who has not only made a nice living from the game, but clearly loves the sport and gladly calls himself a rabid fan.
On the coaching front, he’s a big supporter of Bill Belichick, calls Tom Coughlin one of the best fourth quarter game strategists around and isn’t quite sure why Norv Turner is still with the Chargers.
As for this Sunday, by all accounts the Patriots-Giants revenge matchup looks to have the makings for a close affair. However, history tells us that might not necessarily be the case. Let the game begin.
“Just don’t let it be 21-0 in the second quarter,” Michaels said at a recent lunch.
He recalled announcing Super Bowl XXII, where the Doug Williams-led Washington Redskins went on an offensive blitzkrieg in the second quarter to ultimately defeat the Denver Broncos, 42-10. A compelling game, in a matter of minutes, became a bloodbath where viewers began tuning out in droves.
“What just happened?” a dazed Michaels remembers saying when the Redskins couldn’t be stopped by a porous Broncos defense.
Once this Super Bowl game ends — and clearly Michaels is hoping it goes down to the last second — he’ll flly back home to his home in Southern California, head to Staples Center to see his beloved L.A. Kings (he’s a longtime season ticket holder), get back on the golf course, find some good restaurants to enjoy with his wife, Linda, and cherish his four grandchildren.
It’s a nice life. He’s earned it.
How hot is "Downton Abbey" right now for PBS? It has made the cover of mainstream magazine TV Guide.
How rare is a PBS program on the cover of TV Guide? Very.
According to former Variety reporter Michael Schneider, whom I believe left to become the magazine's Los Angeles bureau chief just so he could help me with this blog post, the "Downton Abbey" cover (headed to newstands and dated Feb. 6) is the first of a PBS primetime show since this "Cosmos" cover in 1980.
Though programs such as "Sesame Street" and "Barney" have gotten cover attention, Schneider believes that "Downton" is only the third primetime PBS cover on the magazine ever.
Still in the process of finding its post-Steve Carell sea legs, "The Office" has sailed into two new questions about its longterm future — namely the possible migration of two longtime Sabre/Dunder-Miffliners, Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson, to projects in development.
Kaling (Kelly Kapoor) is starring and exec producing in a Universal TV pilot for Fox, while a potential "Office" spinoff featuring Wilson's Dwight Schrute (seen in the clip above) is reportedly in the works for 2013. These would seem to be deathblows to a show that some would say can't afford them — if it isn't well past that point already. Was "The Office" really meant to be shuffling its cast into a second decade and launching spinoffs like some latter-day comedy "Law & Order"?
Such grim thoughts, however, ignore the reality of what "The Office" is and has always been.
1) "The Office" has always thrived on generating discomfort.
From the very beginning, unapologetically awkward characters and situations have been the bread and butter of "The Office." I still remember blogging after Jan (Melora Hardin) had her "Dinner Party" meltdown — this during the show's heyday in 2008 — in the wake of some saying that the show had taken her too far off the deep end. For years, how many times did Michael Scott push the envelope to the point where many viewers were saying it was too much? And in retrospect, how lovingly are those episodes remembered?
Without a doubt, "The Office" is only as good as it is funny and/or meaningful. Gratuitous, unrewarding craziness does not go down well, and to be sure in 2011-12, there have been more than a few moments of that. Some scenes, even entire episodes occasionally, have been plain clunkers. At the same time, I think some of the negative feelings toward the post-Carell "Office" resemble the very same negativity that sometimes sprung up for Carell himself. But without Carell there to shoulder the burden, and with the show's creative zenith in the past, it becomes easier to dismiss the enterprise entirely.
The most recent new episode, "Pool Party," was a 600,000-gallon tub o' weirdness, with inappropriate behavior spilling out almost from the start, and three male cast members spilling out of their swimsuits at the finish. And yet, it took risks, gave us a number of laughs and not only came together as a story, but as a story unlike anything you've ever really seen on TV (see clip below). In other words, it was anything but an episode of a show that should be tossed in the dustbin — certainly not by NBC, which has much bigger major ratings and creative issues to deal with.
2) As important as Carell was to "The Office," turnover in the cast has been prevalent.
Roy. Jan. Karen. These are just a few of the many characters who, even if they weren't all series regulars, played an integral role in "Office" stories on a weekly basis but are now years into the show's past. No, "The Office" isn't the same without Carell (who, by the way, deserved way more awards recognition than he received over the years, including at Sunday's SAG Awards). But the show was always bigger than Carell, always an ensemble more than a one-man tour de force, and always a series that benefited as much as it suffered from cast members coming and going. (It's worth noting at this point that Kaling's onscreen role is already pretty minor at this point, while Jenna Fischer's Pam has been largely absent from the entire 2011-12 season because of pregnancy.)
If anything, there's a strong argument to be made that turnover in the acting ranks would help "The Office" more than it would hurt. Jim (played by John Krasinski, who has a burgeoning film career) has struggled for inspiration at this stage of his "Office" career; a farewell arc for him and Fischer could be every bit as rewarding as Carell's was a year ago. Conversely, the addition of quirkmeister Robert California (James Spader) has added zest, even if his unpredictability sometimes smacks of the writers needing him to act a given way in a given moment. Without Spader, you don't have the great conclusion to "Pool Party."
Change for the sake of change is no answer to any problem — success depends on execution, and there are a lot of ways things can go wrong. Season-six addition Gabe (Zach Woods) has been mostly insufferable from the get-go. But clinging to the status quo isn't an answer either. The relocation of Dwight, Kelly or any others could create new and potentially fruitful paths.
Those of us who became fans of "The Office" fell in love with the characters, the humor and the decidely roundabout take on life and society the show offered. If the show ended this season, some former fans would barely take note, and few would say it was a departure that came too soon. But in my mind, it remains a franchise that has more to offer.
I remain curious to see what comes next. If "The Office" tries and fails, we still have the earlier episodes to cherish. And if it essentially becomes NBC's halfhour "Law & Order," believe me, there are worse sins in this TV world.
ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW are ordering pilots in a blur, to the point that you might be wondering why you haven't sold one. Variety has ongoing, extensive coverage of pilot season, but for those who need a quick checklist of some prominent names to date, here's but a sampling.Comedy
|Exec producer||Known for …||2012 pilot||Network||Briefest logline|
|Bill Lawrence||Cougar Town||Like Father||Fox||Dad moves in with adult son|
|Charlie Grandy||Saturday Night Live||Jimmy Fallon project||NBC||Three immature guys parent|
|Dan Fogelman||Crazy, Stupid, Love||Dan Fogelman project||ABC||Neighbors from another planet|
|Demetri Martin||Important Things with Demetri Martin||Demetri Martin project||Fox||Animated: Couple in rural town|
|Greg Daniels||The Office||Friday Night Dinner||NBC||Based on U.K. series|
|Jon Favreau||Swingers||Tweaked||CBS||Single parents' dating scene|
|Kari Lizer||The New Adventures of Old Christine||Kari Lizer project I||ABC||New stay-at-home mom|
|Kari Lizer||The New Adventures of Old Christine||Kari Lizer project II||NBC||Best friend gets married|
|Louis C.K.||Louie||Louis C.K./Spike Feresten project||CBS||Struggling young dreamers|
|Marco Pennette||Caroline in the City||The Manzanis||ABC||Italian family goes suburban|
|Mike Royce||Men of a Certain Age||Little Brother||Fox||Long-lost brother moves in|
|Nick Stoller||The Muppets||Nick Stoller project||CBS||Guy works near ex|
|Rob McElhenney||It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia||Living Loaded||Fox||Odd couple host radio show|
|Roseanne Barr/Eric Gilliand||Roseanne||Downwardly Mobile||NBC||Mobile-home park setting|
|Sarah Silverman||The Sarah Silverman Show||Sarah Silverman project||NBC||Newly single gal|
|Scott Silveri||Perfect Couples||Go On||NBC||Sportscaster in therapy|
|Exec producer||Known for …||2012 pilot||Network||Briefest logline|
|Bryan Fuller||Pushing Daisies||The Munsters||NBC||Herman and friends reimagined|
|Candace Bushnell||Sex and the City||The Carrie Diaries||CW||Carrie Bradshaw in high school|
|Derek Haas/Michael Brandt||3:10 to Yuma||Chicago Fire||NBC||Chicago Fire Department setting|
|Greg Berlanti||Brothers and Sisters||Arrow||CW||Green Arrow tales|
|Jason Katims||Friday Night Lights||County||NBC||L.A. hospital (with Jason Ritter)|
|Kevin Williamson||The Vampire Diaries||Kevin Williamson project||Fox||Escaped serial killer|
|Michael McDonald||MadTV||Beautiful People||NBC||Androids resemble humans|
|Roland Emmerich||Independence Day||Roland Emmerich project||ABC||Astrophysicist fights evil|
|Shaun Cassidy||Invasion||The Frontier||NBC||Heading west in 1840s|
|Shawn Ryan||The Shield||The Last Resort||ABC||Renegade crew in nuclear sub|
|Shonda Rhimes||Grey's Anatomy||Gilded Lillys||ABC||New York hotel in 1895|
The Internet-TV crossover flows both ways.
Bobby Lee, former cast member of the defunct late-night Fox series “Mad TV,” has signed with Maker Studios, one of the most popular Internet-only programmers. His own comedy channel, branded BobbyTV, will launch late Friday as one of YouTube’s new channels.
It’s a reversal of the occasional manner in which YouTube serves as a discovery platform for the entertainment establishment to find talent. And Maker would know considering one of the company’s principals, Lisa Donovan--better known online as LisaNova--was plucked from the Internet where she built a cult following to briefly join the cast of “Mad TV” back in 2007.
But Maker has become a comedy destination in its own right, bringing together top Internet talent to its YouTube network The Station for billions of views each month. Lee, who has also been seen in “Pineapple Express” and the “Harold and Kumar” films, could be betting that in time Maker will be as financially lucrative for him as a TV series.
Lee will get a proper Internet introduction as guest host tonight of YouTube’s reigning star--and Maker member--Ray William Johnson.
Among writers for television, David Milch is acknowledged as one of the masters. "NYPD Blue" and "Deadwood" are just a few of his creations, and his latest series, "Luck," comes to HBO on Jan. 29 with a big marketing push, as Variety's Stuart Levine writes. But it's time the pay cabler question whether what sets Milch apart may be what's keeping him from a wider audience.
What's distinctive about a Milch series is the way it thrusts you into the unique subculture he's depicting, whether its a New York City police precinct or, in the case of "Luck," the seedy underbelly of a race track. If you're the kind of person who plays the ponies, the characters and setting are rendered so faithfully to what they sound and look like in real life that it's almost as if Milch has made a documentary.
But what about the 99.5% of the population with only a passing familiarity to the intricacies of galloping and gambling? To them--and of course, I count myself among "them"--"Luck" will be something of a disorienting experience. From the second this series gets out of the gate, every line of dialogue seems filled with jargon understood by few outside the horseracing world, and there's little exposition to help you decipher the story.
Don't be surprised if you understand the horses more than the humans.
That's no accident on Milch's part. He's calculating there's more value in bringing life to a scene as vividly as possible--even if it comes at the expense of the viewers understanding what's transpiring. Milch is making a conscious creative choice to bypass what is probably a bigger problem in TV: bogging down scripts with explanations from characters who would never talk that way in real life.
But Milch is overcorrecting the problem in a way that practically dares all but the most patient viewer to tune out. What's worse, many critics have noticed that it takes multiple episodes to really understand "Luck," and that's asking a lot in a world where viewers have so many choices as to what shows they want to devote hours to watching.
That MIlch is allowed to employ this style of narrative at HBO is no coincidence. The network is famous for letting producers realize their visions with minimal interference from the suits that TV showrunners love to blame for spoiling the broth with one too many chefs in the kitchen.
But "Luck" seems to be a case where HBO is giving a producer enough rope to hang himself. Maybe with a few of those pesky creative notes the network doesn't like to give, Milch could have struck a better balance between maintaining his creative integrity while making some slight modifications that could have repelled less viewers.
Back when "NYPD Blue" was on, the series sprinkled just the right amounts of cop vernacular through memorable characters like detective Andy Sipowicz. But the further Milch has drifted from the heavy oversight of broadcast TV, the more inscrutable he's become.
On "Deadwood," Milch's love of florid language seemed OK. Given the Western takes place in a long-ago age, it almost seem right to not totally understand what was being said. But their last collaboration, "John From Cincinnati," indulged much more so in the same esoteric approach and suffered the consequences: a rare one-season failure that squandered a lead-in from the finale of "The Sopranos."
It wouldn't be surprising if "Luck" follows in "John's" footsteps (though to be fair, "Luck" isn't as impenetrable as its predecessor). While the series is hardly the first on HBO to test viewers' patience, maybe the network needs to re-examine whether it can afford to be as demanding on its audience at a time when the competition seems to be catching up with every passing day.
HBO already has another deal in place with Milch to adapt the works of William Faulkner, who wasn't exactly the John Grisham of his day. The performance of "Luck" may give the network some pause in how to approach such difficult material.
There's a huge middle ground between authenticity and accessibility. Maybe it's time Milch and HBO find it.
From Sam Thielman, our man at NATPE:
"Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan made a brief cameo during the the tribute video to Matt Weiner at the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards on Tuesday evening. "He was obsessing over the size of the apples (on 'Mad Men')," Gilligan said admiringly. "It was that level of attention to detail.
"So now," Gilligan said, brandishing a small baggie of white powder, "I always weigh the meth on the show to the 100th of a gram. This is the fake s--t." Then he held up a full gallon Ziploc to the camera. "This is the real stuff."
Lionsgate's TV distribution honcho Jim Packer sat down with Variety to talk features, digital and "Anger Management" (see related), and he took a victory lap for the banner's "Margin Call," which earned a best screenplay nom from the Academy today. "We did day-and-date with theatrical for 'Margin Call,'" he said. "It worked with theaters, it worked with VOD, and now it has a best screenplay nomination. You had pundits saying, 'it's not a real theatrical movie!' Well, yes it is." The VOD promotion, he said, was just good sense for a brainy indie film. "Could you have spent $25 million advertising for P&A (promotion and advertising)? Well, maybe if money was silly and you didn't care, but there are a lot of great movies that just won't justify a $25 million P&A spend."
At a Tuesday NATPE session in Miami, Viacom Entertainment group prexy Doug Herzog admitted to an aud of TV industryites that the company had gone in the wrong direction with guy-centric cabler Spike. "We were so focused on young guys that we chased everybody else away," he said. "We were too young, and too guy." The net, he said, is in unscripted-only mode until its financials start to look up, and it's looking into content that will appeal to a broader base. On a lighter note, Herzog said the hardest thing about running Comedy Central was trying to be funny. "I found that being cool at MTV was a lot easier," he laughed. "I could fake that."
This year's Tartikoff honorees all held court on Wednesday after the gala awards cermony. Matt Weiner's Wednesday session was among the best-attended of the confab. The "Mad Men" creator talked about how the indirect inspiration for his hit series - Reganomics. "I was going to college during the Reagan eighties and all these people who had grown up in the sixties had gotten very conservative and were still talking about how they had invented sex." College, he said, was a weird experience in that environment, especially after the AIDS crisis hit. "It's not still the sexual revolution when they give you a dental dam in your freshman orientation kit," he said ruefully. "I'm not kidding."
He also gave with the show's direct progenitor - "The Great Gatsby." "It's like the Bible now," he said. "It's not a bad thing to say that you've been influenced by or stolen from, but if Fitzgerald was here now he'd be like, 'Hey, you stole my story!'"
Weiner also said that incorporating season-long arcs had helped ground the show, and that the sometimes absurd power plays between characters that drive a lot of TV drama weren't for him.
"There are people who do it amazingly, but I can't do it," he said. "Don would have been an astronaut by the end of the season. Really, he would have been. 'The space program is calling, Don!"
Last night's Brandon Tartikoff Legacy awards took place at the Fontainebleau's Glimmer Ballroom, one of the hotel's larger venues, with a bar placed strategically outside the ceremony so attendees could sneak out and fortify themselves mid-speech.
The Tartikoff Awards at NATPE are the biggest event on the official conference schedule; folks may or may not get to go to the various network parties, but the Tartikoffs are open to all attendees, and they are actually not boring. Let's be honest: there are a lot of awards ceremonies out there trying embarrassingly to be the Oscars, but the Tartikoffs are not among them. They tend to go to the people behind the scenes, and those people tend to have had interesting lives and interesting friends who introduce them.
Dick Ebersol's econium for his friend and former colleague Dennis Swanson was particularly heartfelt; Swanson's professional career has included the discovery of Oprah Winfrey, revolutionary changes at ABC Sports that affected the way the Olympics, baseball, and football are played, and exec jobs leading to his current post as prexy of station operations at Fox TV Stations.
For Ebersol personally, though, Swanson's most important contribution was emotional: When Ebersol and his son Teddy were involved in a plane crash that killed the son and badly injured the father, it was Swanson who sat by his side. "The person who came to the receiving line (for Teddy) when I was doped up to the gills and made sure nobody hurt me or grabbed me the wrong way was Dennis," Ebersol said hoarsely.
"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner was also among the honorees, and was also the recipient of easily the best video tribute, created by friends and colleagues from "Mad Men" and featuring some great deadpan from Jon Hamm. "You know what, Matt? You can take all of your Emmys and awards put them on top of your head," he said, then pointed to his own face. "It's never gonna be this."
Weiner was also moved. "I can't believe people took all that trouble. On my set. Without my knowledge," he said. Weiner told the aud that he'd been forbidden to watch weeknight television because of his grades as a kid, but "Thank God that my grades were eventually good enough that I was able to go to college and spend four years watching TV."
"If you get good grades, and you do all your homework - and I want to see it," he told the aud, "you can come downstairs at ten o'clock and watch the show."
Other highlights included Simon Cowell's video intro for FreeMantle Media North America topper Cecile Frot-Coutaz, in which he described the soft-spoken, diminutive executive as "what would happen if you merge a kitten and a shark, and they have a baby. She's kind of cute, but she bites you;" and the introduction of RCN exec and "Ugly Betty" creator Fernando Gaitán as "a tiger, not because he's fierce, but because he makes love every 20 minutes."
A mermaid in a clamshell top perched at the edge of the swimming pool some ten stories below the hotel room, resting her shoulders on its tiled rim and allowing her long tail to trail away in front of her, the pool's underwater lights shining onto it and casting an odd shadow on the blue concrete at its bottom.
Another girl in a tiara stood poolside in a dress with a long train. She climbed into a table with with a hole in the center. The long train became a tablecloth and the girl stood patiently as other young women in form-fitting white dresses arranged champagne flutes and wine glasses around her hips. My friend Alex opened the little map of the resort we'd been given consulted the key to find the name of the outdoor club we could see below us.
"Yup, that's ArKadia," he said. "That's Charlie Sheen."
There is an agency/event planning concern in Miami called Zhantra Entertainment that throws enormous parties like this one, for Sheen's new show "Anger Management," with twentysomething women milling around solely to beautify the place in interesting ways. Its founder, a modestly dressed woman with flaming red hair named Bengy Cid, said that most of her talent have a dance background - it takes a certain amount of stamina to stand in one place without moving for two solid hours while people select drinks from around your waist - and that "It's very hard to find the whole package - tall beautiful, polite, friendly..."
She paused as a tall man in a sport coat and slacks begged our pardon and shouldered through the crowd between Cid and the pool carrying a second smiling mermaid, her arms wrapped around his neck, and tossed her gently into the water where her partner had climbed partway out to pose with a long line of smiling (male) station buyers.
Cid, it turns out, is shopping a show of her own at NATPE - a reality series about her offbeat company. It's called - what else? - "It's Not Easy Being Sexy." "It's just an eight-minute sizzle reel, but it looks great!" she said.
About an hour and a half into the party, Sheen finally arrived at the Debmar-Mercury cabanas located across the water from thoe hotel (one of the odd quirks of the Fontainebleau resort, where NATPE is held, is that while the rooms are advertised with "ocean view" and the shops and restaurants seaside themed ad nauseam, it is actually almost impossible to get to the beach). Instantly, a swarm of gawkers, well-wishers, ill-wishers, and press converged on his tent, hemming him in, and for a while it looked like press were going to have to make do with the mermaids. Then, after a few minutes of frantic calls and texts, he agreed to talk.
Sheen doesn't answer questions, exactly, but he is extremely candid, which makes for a better interview. Here's a transcript of my favorite part:
Variety: All this publicity seems a little rough.
Sheen: Yeah, but I don't really care. I don't take it personally. It's just words, you know? Coming from people who don't know anything about me, so how much stock can you put in it, you know? I mean, a stranger's random opinion? It's like getting mad at a three-year-old. Plus, I never read anything anymore, because all that happens is you get upset. And then you hear from a buddy, 'Ooh, great story' so you know what's out there, and I know what I said. I'll do a lot more press once we shoot some shows and really get this thing moving. I'm not gonna talk about it as a real project, now it's kind of amorphous.
Variety: Mostly I just meant that this seems like kind of a punishing circuit of handshaking and interviews. I didn't mean that people are badmouthing the show.
Sheen: Oh, fuck! I'm like a fucking beaten dog over here!
Variety: Bless your heart.
Sheen: No, this is fine. It looks like chaos but everybody is happy to see me, has nothing but kind words to offer. You know, they're pretty great problems. Everybody's very cool about it. People that had the other show and want the new one now have their college educations and mortgages paid off. You never know what you're doing in this little microcosmic fantasy oasis. You never know who it reaches and how it gets to them. It's really a trip. I was in a store the other day - this is a true story, I couldn't believe this one - and this woman says to me, 'Oh, Mr. Sheen, I gotta tell you, my mother died in April,' I said, 'I'm sorry,' she said, 'Nono, it's not about that, she was 97.' She looked at me and she said, 'She was such a fan of the show that she said, "Oh, I hope that Sheen boy gets another job..." and died.' And I said, 'You spent your whole lives together! She should have spoken you as her last words!' And she said, 'Ah, that's just Mom.'" [chuckles] Just when you thought you'd heard everything.
Variety: Do you have "Winning" tattooed on your wrist?
Sheen: I do, yeah.
Variety: That's amazing.
Sheen: Well, I'm getting my watch fixed. My watch usually covers it. But just to have survived that whole odyssey and to have lived in the middle of that whole... that... whatever that thing was... I had to emblazon something.
Sheen says he "wouldn't have been as vocal" if he had the whole Chuck Lorre imbroglio to do over again, but the memory of it clearly still stings. "I was a little out of line," he says. "But I was so mad. They were so wrong. They were so fucking wrong. And I knew I couldn't lose. When you're in a position like that, sitting on four aces and a joker, you gotta keep pushing the pot, you know? I couldn't even get a phone call, you know? You put $400 million in a guy's pocket and he can't even call you to say, 'Hey, dude, you got to go.' I'm not bitter."
And now? "If I saw Chuck now, I'd give him a hug. And I'd say, 'That's for the first seven years. Not the eighth.'"
Ashton Kutcher? A guy with a difficult job, similar to the job Sheen did when he replaced Michael J. Fox on "Spin City." Kutcher's breakup? "Everybody's talking about the curse of "Two and a Half Men" with San Diego and the divorce," Sheen sighs. "No, man - that show was eating marriages from season two. Chuck, John, me twice."
About "Anger Management," Sheen has nothing but praise, although he's reticent to say too much beyond Sheenian hyperbole about how it's the best thing since gravity, except that he likes Bruce Helford and he's enjoying the casting process. "It's a smarter show," he says. "It's a more adult show."
Yahoo! exec Ross Levinsohn and News Corp's digital CEO Jonathan Miller are old buddies, and they were comfortable enough during today's NATPE conversation to handicap the current state of digital video. It was a fun panel - the pair started off with a bet (egged on by the moderator) on who would win the Super Bowl. Miller (a Pats fan) and Levinsohn (who backs the correct team) each agreed to fly the other to Miami for stone crab if his team lost. "Premium content" was the buzzphrase of the day - the pair agreed that the industry has more or less stopped kidding itself about monetizing user-generated content in the same way it monetizes professionally created material. Some quick hits from the back-and-forth:
[DISCLAIMER: I took notes on this session, rather than recording it. Quotes are as close to verbatim as I can get 'em.]
Miller on the bottom line: "Consumers want video and you have to give it to 'em. It's a simple statement but it opens up all kinds of conversations about rights, about screens, about different kinds of product." (and piracy and SOPA, but the pair mostly avoided that discussion)
Levinsohn backhanding YouTube without actually saying its name: "I like watching the cat on the skateboard chasing the laser pointer like everyone else, abut it's impossible to monetize and if I was a big premium advertiser I'm not sure I'd want my name next to that."
Miller on why advertising and the internet are made for each other: "You now have these global platforms that never existed before. They're going to be in the billions (of users) soon. You could go to Ross and make a deal that could literally reach 700 million people, and that's never been possible before."
Levinsohn on why they're not, really, unless you're controlling every way someone watches your content: "You can tell your boss that you've bought an ad on the internet, but good luck trying to find it."
Miller on the bottom line, again. Also, STRATEGY GIVEAWAY!: "Be in the video business. We're pushing brands like the WSJ to be more in the video business."
Levinsohn on why Facebook's going to have a Myspace problem at some point: "After the second or third cycle where the ads aren't returning, ad buyers start to question you, and that'll start to happen at Facebook. The difference is that Facebook has controlled the data so well that it's all very, very predicatable. The problem with that is my Facebook page is mine. I do it on their platform, but its mine and I don't want to be associated with some big-ticket advertiser unless I want to. But they're going to have to do that if they're going to go on to the next level."
Miller on Netflix: "They had a tough 2011 but they still got 20 million subs. They used to be a film library company and now they're competing for near-first-run television. The battleground in the industry has shifted from film library product to television product, which is Hulu's value. Companies are going as close to current as they can and trying to cherry-pick the series they need - because you can't buy it all - for their business model."
Miller on why television has supplanted film as the medium of choice for distributors: "I'm catching up on 'The Wire,' which is five seasons long. If you get me hooked, you've got me for a LOT of time."
Here are my notes from Wednesday's nerd-centric rally, some of which were used for this piece by my excellent colleague Ted Johnson and myself. Ted's folo, chronicling the bill's delay, can be found here.
Hundreds of protesters turned out Wednesday to cheer on speakers from Silicon Alley outside the Midtown offices of New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, where techies and well-wishers chanted anti-SOPA/PIPA slogans. The controversial antipiracy bills (sponsored by the pair, among others) are now wending through Congress, but petitions and protest strikes by sites like Wikipedia have created so much antipathy to the proposed laws that compromise legislation is being drafted as of press time.
The Gotham event was a far cry from the raucous crowds that gathered a few months ago for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. A sense of calm prevailed, with protesters mostly refraining from chanting too loudly, and a few police herding compliant onlookers into well-maintained protest zones. Third Avenue was blocked off between 48th and 49th streets to allow for the protest.
The speeches, however, were rousing: “The Stop Online Piracy Act will not actually do much to stop online piracy!” said NYU teacher and “Cognitive Surplus” author Clay Shirky, who proposed that the name of the legislation be changed to the First Amendment Sunset Act. “You can’t just shut people up if you don’t like what they’re saying!” he told the cheering aud.
Hollywood took its lumps at the rally, organized by the networking org New York Tech Meetup. One placard read “Pander to the people, not Hollywood;” another had a picture of a cat holding the Bill of Rights and the slogan “I can has freedom?”
“When Hollywood lobbyists show up with $94 million as they did last year, both Democrats and Republicans line up,” said Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. MoveOn.org’s Eli Pariser was even more adamant: “You have groups like MoveOn all the way over to groups like (conservative coalition) Red State who think this is a bad idea,” he said. “The only people who think this is a good idea are the crumbling old legacy media who want to go back to VHS tapes and CDs and congresspeople.”
Despite a generally laid-back vibe, some speakers couldn’t resist a little OWS-style rabble-rousing. Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman introduced each speaker by asking the aud “What does democracy look like?” and getting back a chorus of “This is what democracy looks like!” — more or less the same chant from the Occupy rallies late last year. Wednesday’s protesters cast themselves as innovators trying to move forward, while a conservative government protected antiquated technology in order to keep its pockets lined. Particular scorn was reserved for media companies that spent decades or centuries profiting the same old material. “Copyright-holding organizations have been gaming the system for decades,” said Meetup chairman Andrew Rasiej.
Many protesters saw a connection between the Occupy movement and SOPA/PIPA. “I’ve watched everything that’s led up to this,” sighed Joan Boyle, a freelance researcher who relies heavily on the web and came to the rally to show her support. “Income inequality, Citizens United, that whole raft of things that have happened over the last few years.”
Still, there weren’t many venture capitalists at OWS. Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures criticized the both the legislation and the entertainment industry, which he saw as its proxy creator. “They’re very, very broad, they’re very poorly worded, and they’re designed to suck as many companies into them as possible,” he said of the two bills. And Hollywood? “The entertainment industry thinks of users as either customers or crooks,” he said.
Of all the speeches, it was Shirky’s final line that earned the most applause: “What they’re saying to us is this,” he said of Schumer and Gillibrand, “‘Everyone’s got a choice: the Internet, the First Amendment, corporate control of public speech. Pick two.’”
"Among some comics 'Late Show' has a reputation for favoring a certain profile. 'The types they seem to like are middle-aged white men from the Midwest,' the comic Amy Schumer said. Only one woman (Karen Rontowski) was booked in 2011. 'There are a lot less female comics who are authentic,' Mr. Brill said. 'I see a lot of female comics who to please an audience will act like men.'"
But this is probably what got him canned:
"But there are also questions about conflicts of interest, particularly since only 22 comics, including Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld and less famous performers, were lucky enough to get segments last year, and comedians presumably take his classes hoping for an edge in getting on the show. 'He trades on the name of the show,' the young comic Anthony Jeselnik said. 'He has workshops, a festival. He has the market cornered. I can’t believe Letterman lets him do it.'"
However, Stillerman spent plenty of time being contrite about reaction to the loose ends left at the finale of the first season of "The Killing" last year.
"I want you to know that we learned a lot from your response to season one," Stillerman said. "We heard you, and we clearly didn't sufficiently manage expectations."
Stillerman said that the resolution of the Rosie Larsen murder set up in the series premiere would be revealed at the end of season two, then added, "Be nice," when the assembled media chuckled.
"As you may recall, the two-season arc is taken directly from the very successful Danish series, which also ended season one with a cliffhanger and solved the murder at the end of season two," Stillerman said.
"You should also know that after we saw the reaction to season one, AMC potentially explored veering away from the Danish template. We looked at all our options, and thought about whether we could conclude the story early in the season or at other points. But at the end of the day and after significant discussion, we decided that in order to do justice to the story we fell in love with in the first place ... resolving the murder at the end of season two was the best creative option."
Perhaps appropriately, "The Killing" second-season premiere will be April Fool's Day.
The long-awaited fifth season of "Mad Men," which hasn't aired a new episode since 2010, will launch at 9 p.m. before settling into its 10 p.m. slot the following week after the second season of "The Killing" unfolds. "Killing" will normally air at 9 p.m.
"The Walking Dead" had its third season extended to 16 episodes, up from 13. "The Walking Dead" is returning with a new episode Feb. 12, followed by the premiere of unscripted series "Comic Book Men" exec produced by Kevin Smith.
Taking on the role of Sarah Palin in HBO's latest presidential election film venture, "Game Change" (premiering March 10), was every bit as risky for Julianne Moore as you can imagine.
"I did a tremendous amount of research," Moore said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour In Pasadena today. "It's a daunting task to play somebody who's not only a living figure but an incredibly daunting one, so the thing that was most important to me was accuracy."
Moore said that she, like much of the rest of the country, had "a collective gasp" when Palin was introduced to the national stage, but she necessarily had to move beyond that when playing the part.
"I certainly have profound respect for the historical nature of her candidacy," Moore said. "From where she was taken there was tremendous amount of pressure, and that was one of the things I was trying to capture."
For most Americans, especially those who haven't read the film's source material of the same name (written by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann), the impact of that pressure on Palin herself might come as a surprise. But screenwriter Danny Strong, adapting the book after having success on HBO's "Recount," said that the film's goal isn't to present a new Palin, just a dimensionalized one.
"It's not designed to change anybody's minds," said Strong, who added that his 25 interviews for the project included every critical person associated with the 2008 Republican presidential campaign except Palin, John McCain (played by Ed Harris) and speechwriter Mark Salter. "It's designed to show you the truth.
"When you dive into a subject the way you do (on "Game Change"), you get a perspective that is so much more profound than the caricature."
The combination of Palin's charisma and her lack of preparation for the role gets nuanced treatment in "Game Change," which also stars Woody Harrelson and Sarah Paulson and is directed by "Recount" helmer Jay Roach -- though the filmmakers would have liked Palin's participation in the project.
"I personally on behalf of the (movie) reached out to Sarah Palin and made a personal request," Roach said. "I wrote a long letter explaining that I thought we would just do better at getting this story right if she would talk to us, and that our main motive was to try to tell the story as faithfully and authentically as we possibly could.
"I got a very quick e-mail back from her attorneys saying, 'I checked. She declines.'
This presidential election year threatens a risk of political comedy overload, particularly with "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" operating at full-throttle, but it looks like you'd better make room in April for "Veep," starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as vice president Selina Meyers and exec produced by Armando Iannucci of savvy British film comedy "In the Loop."
In some ways, folks involved are positioning "Veep" as the anti-"West Wing." Though they are striving for authenticity, the halcyon days of Pres. Bartlett are behind.
"I love 'The West Wing,' but I think that portrayal of Washington as a good and noble heartland wouldn't wash right now," the Glasgow-born Iannucci said at the show's press session at the Television Critics Assn. winter gathering in Pasadena today.
"You don't need a political degree to watch. ... We never mention the party; we never name the president. It's not about the minutiae of policy, it's about how people operate in these circumstances."
Louis-Dreyfus seems well at ease in and with her role, which offers a combination of idealism and pragmatism, ego and humility.
"Her platform isn't phony," Louis-Dreyfus said. "She does have a desire to have a clean jobs task force, as we call it, but she does have to make some compromises. She doesn't have a phony set of ideals, but she wants to stay alive as a political animal."
Not a week goes by--OK, a day--where my wife and I fail to fight over what we should be watching on the TV in our living room. Sure, there's other screens in my home where I could skulk off and watch "Lady Hoggers" all by my lonesome, but that kind of defeats the whole togetherness thing that kinda comes with couplehood.
Little did I know Samsung has come up with an ingenious solution to save my marriage and countless others, no doubt.
If you've paid any mind to the Consumer Electronics Show wrapping up in Las Vegas, you've probably heard about the organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, monitors that have a clarity and color palette that make HD look downright fuzzy. What's been virtually ignored is a feature Samsung wants to bring to market on those sets.
It's very simple: Imagine if two different people could watch two different TV shows on the same set at the same time without split-screen.
Samsung has a pair of active shutter glasses with speakers embedded in them that can do just that. You and your significant other can sit next to each other on the couch and be looking at two completely different HD video feeds simultaneously. The glasses not only block one program of your choosing while absorbing another, but the speakers right by your ears mean you're not hearing another program either.
Talk about doing a doubletake: I saw a demonstration of the so-called "dual-view and dual-sound" technology on a tour of the Samsung booth this week. Looked at with the naked eye, you see the image of one video feed superimposed over the other. But that visual mess gets cleaned up once the glasses are on your head without a trace of "crosstalk," when one image blurs into the next.
Just imagine households across the nation with husband and wife sitting calmly hand in hand watching ESPN and Bravo in tandem. Now if Samsung could just do something about my wife's choice of radio stations in the car, it might be time to consider nominating the company for the Nobel Peace Prize.
At this point, Stephen Colbert doesn't just make better speeches than half the candidates in the Republican primary, he has more presidential campaign experience.
On Wednesday evening, the comedian ran a clip on "The Colbert Report" of Fox News's Shepard Smith informing Jon Huntsman that he was polling behind Colbert in the latter's home state of South Carolina. In a Public Policy Polling survey, which included Colbert on the strength of his showing as a write-in candidate, the comic earned a full 5% of the vote, beating out the former Utah governor, who has trailed his fellow GOP hopefuls in nearly every poll.
“Everyone in the Republican field has already had their ‘I’m not Mitt’ moment,” Colbert said after the clip finished. “It all makes so much sense - I am so not Mitt!" He paused, so viewers could take a look at Romney's face next to his own clean-shaven, square-jawed, perfectly coiffed countenance. "I’m the one with the glasses,” he clarified.
Colbert went from wonky satirist to semi-official politician last year. After the landmark Citizens United vs. the FEC ruling, which created a special kind of "super" political action committee that can accept unlimited funding without disclosing its sources to the public, he set out to found a super PAC of his own. In June, he announced that the Federal Election Commission had given him permission to form The Stephen Colbert Super PAC, a.k.a. Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.
The PAC allowed Colbert to receive unlimited donations from any group except Viacom, Comedy Central's parent company - and then to use that money to endorse whatever candidate it chose, so long as it didn't "coordinate" with that candidate. In part, the super PAC is a joke designed to point out the flaws in a political system that allows it to exist. It's had real-world effects, however - the FEC's scrutiny of Colbert's PAC set precedent, making it against FEC rules for, say, News Corp to fund Karl Rove's super PAC Crossroads GPS, since Rove is on the News Corp payroll as a Fox News contributor just as Colbert is employed by Viacom.
On Thursday evening, Colbert transferred ownership of his super PAC to Jon Stewart, who sent out an email to PAC contributors requesting that they now refer to the group as The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC. ("They have already begun updating all of their letterhead with sharpie," the email assures)
This frees up Colbert to form an exploratory committee to seek the presidency, but it also means that money the PAC has been using for joke ads (and the occasional anti-Rick Perry attack ad, after Perry ran the now-infamous "Strong" spot, which appeared to blame gay servicemen for the ban on school prayer) can now actually be used to promote a Stephen Colbert presidency. It's administrated by Stewart, funded by viewers who are in on the joke, and might actually be wealthy enough to see Colbert through a primary or two, because nobody outside the PAC knows exactly how much money is in the thing.
Colbert ran for president in 2008, first as a Republican, then as a Democrat when he discovered that he would be subject to stricter FEC regs if he paid the $35,000 fee to be listed on the ballot (FEC excuses candidates who spend less than $5K from the committee rules on the grounds that they are merely "testing the waters"). The S.C. Democratic Party executive council refused to include Colbert's name on the ballot and refunded his money - a $2,500 fee - and that was the end of his campaign.
Now, as Colbert sets up his South Carolina campaign, we'll see a whole new set of regulatory minutiae aired. Can Stewart pay Colbert's $35,000 ballot fee without "coordinating" with him? Can the PAC run the entire campaign without Colbert having to lift a finger to buy more than a round of non-coordinative thank-you beer for Stewart?
Colbert has upped the ante with his super PAC, and now he and Stewart are basically daring the FEC to shut them down and, in the process, kneecap every other candidate who relies on soft money funneled through what we used to call shell companies.If Colbert and Stewart ARE found to be in violation of FEC regs and set precedent for every other campaign, they'll have won a major political victory.
If they don't...
Hell, I'd vote for him.
Full email from the Colbert Super PAC:
Dear Super PAC Super Members,
Hi there. I'm Jon. It looks like I'm running this thing now. All the details are in the press release below. Quick question: does anybody know where the key to the Super PAC bathroom is?
Jon Stewart President Pro Tem Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow
FOR REALLY IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Under New Management!
BASIC CABLE, USA – Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, an FEC registered Super PAC, today announced the addition of Jon Stewart to its executive board (along with the subtraction of Stephen Colbert).
With this change the group, which had been known colloquially as Colbert Super PAC, can now be referred to as The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC. They have already begun updating all of their letterhead with sharpie.
"I am excited to take the reins of this completely independent organization, and begin to air ads in South Carolina," said New President and Noncommunication Director Jon Stewart. "But I want to be clear: Stephen and I have in no way have worked out a series of morse-code blinks to convey information with each other on our respective shows."
Colbert is currently exploring a run for President of the United States of South Carolina. Because of this, he cannot be associated with any Super PACs, although he has asked Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow to forward any periodicals of an "adult nature." *
Americans A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow is an independent, expenditure-only committee founded by Stephen Colbert in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, then handed down to Jon Stewart like a pair of old dungarees.
For Press Inquiries Contact:
Communications Director, Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC
* Including the periodical "Adult Nature".
Paid for by Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow
Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.
Got a copy of Jenni "Jwoww" Farley's "The Rules According to Jwoww" in the mail and thought I'd quote its best passage, in terms of both literature and utility:
"The publisher and author advocate safety when it comes to drinking and sex and specifically disclaim any and all liability for outcomes, consequences, and damages (including property damage, physical injury, or death) that may occur as a result of attempting any of the activities described in this book."
Former CNBCer Trish Regan made the jump to Bloomberg TV last month. It's not a conventional move, in many respects - most correspondents and anchors working within the NBC family try to move up the ladder at that org, or head over to one of the big cable nets or the broadcast competition. Bloomberg TV doesn't have the ratings footprint of CNBC (it doesn't subscribe to Bloomberg and is assumed to be quite small), but it has a much larger newsgathering operation. And that, for Regan, was the clincher. Today, she starts work on the relaunch of "Street Smart," produced by fellow CNBC vet Jason Farkas.
[Please note: some of my own questions are slightly paraphrased in order to make the coversation read more clearly. Ums, ahs, ers, and hmms are deleted on everyone's part, mostly mine. Regan's comments are verbatim, or as close to it as I can get]
Variety: Does it feel to you like people are paying closer attention to business news now than they have in the past?
Regan: Here's what I'd say about that: Americans have an appetite for finacial news that is unprecendented right now. They want to understand what's going on right now and they want to know when the employment rate is going to go down.
Variety: So it's important to keep an eye on everything, if you can.
Regan: Yes. I think another aspect of my personality is that I'm very interested in both micro and macro economics and linking the two. I don't think you can look at a particular stock, for example, without talking about the sector and what it's saying about the economy as a whole.
Variety: Do you think people will get more interested in the economy as the campaign moves forward?
Regan: The horse race is very interesting; people vote their pocketbooks, and it's going to come down to who they believe has the best economic policy. [For a reporter,] it's an opportunity to really scrutinize at a very detailed level. That's the responsible thing to do as a journalist; as a financial journalist, that's the skill set that I bring to the table. [...] I'm going to do a new segment on the show called Reganomix, to sort of mix it up and talk about these different policies.
Variety: It sounds like fun, honestly.
Regan: Maybe I'm a bit of a wonk and a dork, but I really enjoy it. In an election year, we're looking at everything through an economic lens. Just look at this past year, all the volatility was incredible, and we ended up at exactly the same point at the end of the day. All the concerns came from the downgrade of the US debt, and [the question of] what's going to happen next in Europe.
Variety: Do you sort of wish people had been paying closer attention to business news a few years ago? I remember reading, "the housing market will probably crash, yup, it's gonna crash, whoops, it's crashing, now it's crashed." And people said, "How could we have foreseen this?!"
Regan: I gotta say, as much research as I was doing back then, and as concerned as I was in 2005, I don't think people knew how bad it could get. This is the worst-case scenario, and rarely does that happen. It was very interesting going through all of that, and now we're almost seeing the sequel to that movie with Europe.
Variety: So we have an opportunity to learn from it?
Regan: When you look at what happened - what are the policies that took place that helped us? What policies didn't work? And frankly, European leaders need to understand it right now. We've seen a version of this movie before.
Variety: How did you get started in journalism?
Regan: I have a strong background in journalism - my Mom was a reporter and I used to go out with her in the field when I was five years old. One thing I want to do with this show is take it outside the studio. I want to understand not just the leaders, but what the people are experiencing as well.
Keith Olbermann tweets: "FYI taking preplanned vacation this week; now w/ matter resolved I'll be working during it planning the rest of my Current campaign coverage"
David Carr chronicles the discontent between Olbermann & bosses here, Olbermann tweeted after the column ran (presumably to stick it to the NYT, with whom he's been in a frankly embarrassing Twitter spat after Brian Stelter broke the Olbermann/Current standoff story last week) that he WOULD, honest to gosh, be working on Current coverage of New Hampsire.
For the entire tempest, head over the teapot.
The new year brings a new strategic path for Netflix, which announced Tuesday the launch of its first original series next month. "Lilyhammer," a Netflix co-production with Norwegian companies Rubicon Tv AS and SevenOne International, is an eight-episode series starring Steve Van Zandt as a mobster who enters the witness-protection program. Hiding out in the Norwegian city the winter Olympics made famous, he finds himself resorting to his old ways to make a new life for himself.
From the looks of the trailer, it's as if Van Zandt is practically revisiting his "Sopranos" character, but crossing it with the plot of that forgotten Steve Martin comedy "My Blue Heaven" and the setting of the Al Pacino drama "Insomnia." With a thick rug of jet black hair, Van Zandt even look likes Pacino, though this is played for laughs. "Lilyhammer" will be the first of a series of originals Netflix will trot out over the next few years, including the adaptation of BBC drama "House of Cards" and the revival of the Fox comedy "Arrested Development."
After the disastrous decisions that damaged its business in the final months of 2011, it could be just the thing Netflix needs to put some distance between that rough period and a bright, shiny future. BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield certainly thinks Netflix is moving in the right direction. In a research note (subscription required) issued Tuesday, praise of the strategy led a list of 12 trends he predicted would remake the media world in 2012: "We expect Netflix’s push into original programming to be a positive surprise for investors in 2012 and expect it to create a new form of 'buzz' around the Netflix brand that has been missing since the serious missteps of Q3 2011."