December 30, 2008

dexter finally

Thanks to holding up for the holidays at my parents' house and many, many Christmas cookies, I finally completed season three of Dexter. I have to admit, after the first season, I never thought this show could maintain the same level of intensity. And though the first season is still the best, this one proved that Dexter can still do it every time. It's just so good. How can a story make you root for a serial killer? But you root for him every time. Not sure how to best sum up my thoughts on this season's story, so I'll try to break it down starting with the minor characters.

Angel
I was glad that Angel got a small storyline of his own this season. I also like the move to make him head detective. That dynamic works well with the team. Although I always feel bad that he's usually completely oblivious to (Dexter's work) reality. The hooker/vice cop relationship was cute, but I kept expecting something to go wrong - like she turns out to be some kind of S&M freak or super possessive. She seemed to fall for him too quickly after catching him hiring a hooker. I felt like they were hinting at some bigger issues, but it never got there. And it was also a little odd that Maria dismissed his confession about the prostitution with basically a pat on the head. But she's another story...

Maria
God, poor Maria. Why do they keep killing her friends? It seems like she's always the casualty. First, losing her job in the first season, then losing her close friend and believing that he's the serial killer last season when she's usually the one who comes closest to solving cases. Then, making a new friend, who was soon killed by her old friend, who then also turned up dead. Not to mention being deceived and used and almost killed herself. Please, give this girl a boyfriend and a promotion next season.

Quinn
The new maybe bad, maybe good cop. I like him - a good replacement for dead badass cop. His past is still unclear. I found the internal affairs investigation a little unsatisfying in the end. I'm not sure if that's the end of that plotline, but for all the mystery created by that IA investigator, I thought it kind of fell flat. He covered for a drug addict cop friend, who ended up getting killed by a dealer. Not really the deep dark history I was expecting. And the money for the Cadillac and nice clothes came from a dead relative? Boring. I'm sort of hoping for more from his past next season. I do like his chemistry with Deb. He definitely has a thing for her.

Rita
I absolutely cannot stand her. I hope Dexter murders her next season.

Deb
She gets better every season. This was some of the strongest writing we've seen for her. She always falls in love with the wrong guy, which is getting a little old. But at least this time she was more empowered and mature in the situation. I really liked the Anton story too - he brought her down a couple of intensity notches, which was needed. I'm hoping he stays around next season, although I'm sure it spells trouble. She also had some great scenes on the job - when she stayed up all night to find the lead about the tree trimmer, the back and forth with the IA investigator, etc. And some good ones with Dex, especially finding out about her dad's affair. Sure we'll see more about that next season.

Camilla
I would remiss without mentioning this little side story. A lot of people have expressed dislike for this season because it seemed less suspenseful and gory and more about Dexter's internal struggles. I actually didn't have a problem with that. I didn't feel like it betrayed the story. Camilla's story was a great character development device for Dexter. It was about mercy and love for a friend, which is something he never really needs to reconcile with his kills. He spends much of his time having to "act out" how he thinks he is supposed to behave, but I think we saw some of the only "real Dexter" scenes outside of the killing room with Camilla.


Miguel
Daaaaaaamn. Jimmy Smitts killed this role. He was up and down and all over the place. Perhaps the most psychotic of any of the characters we've seen on this show. Miguel was a monster created without the control that Harry instilled in Dexter. It gave Dexter a glimpse of what he could have become - similar to discovering his brother in the first season. Miguel was seriously scary from the beginning - the manic excitement and then the obsession with justice. I liked how they wrapped it up at the end with his brother Ramon where Dexter was able to help him come to the realization that Miguel really was a sociopath, and Ramon had spent his life trying to pick up the pieces.

Dexter
This season was really about Dexter's ability to have real relationships. It was interesting to see him go from full on playacting with Rita because he genuinely wants to be a good husband, to being comfortable with Camilla because of their history and because he had nothing to lose by telling her the truth about killing his brother, and the guarded almost childlike hope that he could have his first true friend in Miguel. This led to a crisis of faith and code when Miguel proved to be nothing like the friend he hoped to have, but also opened the door for Dexter to realize how much he valued the loyalty of a sister like Deb (asking her to be his best man) and how much he really does want to be a father to his unborn child. The last scene with the vows "I promise to be the best husband and father I can be." (he narrates: a truly honest vow) proved how difficult it is for Dexter to reconcile who he wants to be (father, husband, brother) and who he needs to be (a killer). The vision of his mother and Harry sitting at the wedding was really interesting because, for better or worse, they represent the two forces that made him who he is.

And let us not forget Vince Masuka. He's a hilarious little perv. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until fall 2009 to see him again.

December 19, 2008

tgif top 10: holiday edition

Christmas is next week, and I love me a Christmas episode. They're traditionally very corny, even in comedies. It's always a good opportunity to learn a thing or two about the characters. (i.e. Chandler hating Thanksgiving because his transvestite father and mother separated on that day)

Top 10 Christmas Episodes
  1. My So-Called Life: "So-Called Angels" This is my favorite Christmas episode of all time. And possibly my favorite series of all time. I'm still not over the fact that it was cancelled so quickly. In this episode, Ricky is living on the streets after escaping from his abusive uncle. Angela spends Christmas eve trying to find him and comes across an abandoned building filled with homeless kids. She meets one girl (played by Juliana Hatfield!), who in the end turns out to be an angel. All the while Angela's mom - just annoying enough to make her completely realistic - is going ballistic looking for her daughter. They eventually find Ricky, and the episode ends in a church with really cool music. Oh, and poor Brian Krakow is alone for Christmas, so he tags along too.

  2. The OC: "The Best Chrismukkah Ever" Season one was my favorite OC season. I always sort of thought it went down from there. I love this episode where Seth is trying to choose between Anna and Summer - both of whom present him with Chrismakkuh gifts. Anna creates an entire comic book called "The Adventures of Seth Cohen and Captain Oats." In my opinion, she blew Summer out of the water, whose present was her dressed a Wonder Woman. Alas, Wonder Woman always wins.

  3. South Park: "Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo" This one needs no explanation.

  4. The Office: "A Bennihana Christmas" The Office always comes up with a great holiday episode. I love this one where Michael gets dumped by Carol after Photoshopping his face onto a photo of her ex-husband and their two kids and sending it out as his Christmas card. He goes to Bennihana to drown his sorrows in "nagasaki" (three parts egg nog and one part saki), and falls in love with a Japanese waitress. But when he and Andy take their new "girlfriends" back to the office holiday party, Michael has to mark his lady's arm with a sharpee because he can't tell the two girls apart (they look nothing alike).

  5. Punky Brewster: "Yes Punky, there is a Santa Claus" I loved this show as a kid. This Christmas episode from this first season when some older mean kid tells Punky there is no Santa Claus, so Henry shows up at her school dressed as Santa. Punky sits on Santa's lap and tells him her only wish for Christmas is to find her mother. Henry looks everywhere for the her even though he's afraid to lose Punky. It's all very sweet. Try not to barf.

  6. All in the Family: "Draft Dodger" If you've never watched All in the Family, rent the DVDs. I know it seems like a one-note old sitcom, but this show was actually really progressive. Going back now to watch the raw bigotry of Archie Bunker is just...well, an interesting social commentary. Also, it's hilarious. This episode was one of the more serious ones. Christmas dinner at the Bunkers features Archie's friend, a military veteran whose son was just killed in Vietnam, and Archie's son-in-law invites his draft dodger friend who's been living in Canada. There's a lot of screaming and fighting on Archie's part until the father who lost his son silences him by sitting down to eat with the kid. This is a poor description - you have to see it.

  7. The West Wing "In Excelsis Deo" I already gushed about this one here.

  8. Gilmore Girls "Forgiveness and Stuff" Every episode of GG is perfection, but this is one of the best. Richard Gilmore suffers a heart attack leading to an amazing performance by Kelly Bishop as wife Emily Gilmore and a really sweet moment at the end with between father and semi-estranged daughter. I also love this episode because we see the first bits of great chemistry and flirtation between Lorelei and Luke. He gives her a ride to the hospital and later at the diner, at her request for something 'festive' he makes a Santa-burger. At the end of the episode she gives him the navy blue baseball hat, which he wears for the rest of the series.

  9. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip "The Christmas Show" Ok, don't laugh. I know this show was on for less than a minute and received crap reviews. I don't care. I love Aaron Sorkin, and I loved this show. In this episode, they are trying to put on Christmas-themed show written by the Jewish Matt Albie, who actually has freakish Christmas spirit. The FCC is trying to slap NBC with a fine because a soldier was heard saying f*ck when a journalist was reporting from Afghanistan. Also, Danny (Bradley Whitford) professes his love to Jordan (Amanda Peet) in a great scene. And there's a cool performance by some real New Orleans musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina at the end.

  10. Silver Spoons "The Best Christmas Ever" An oldie but goodie from the first season when Edward and Ricky are spending their first Christmas together. This episode features a super young Joey Lawrence whose family is literally living in a cave on Edward's property. Christmas spirit ensues, and they play Santa to the needy family. A classic.

If you find yourself stranded with your laptop at the airport or dodging family members next week, you can watch a bunch of full Christmas episodes courtesy of Hulu on this site.

December 18, 2008

the year in pictures

The cast of How I Met Your Mother created a photo montage called "The Best in 2008." I kind of love it.


December 17, 2008

flight of the concords season premiere

I haven't written too much about my love for Flight of the Concords on HBO. The second season premieres on January 18 at 10pm, but FunnyOrDie.com is premiering the entire first episode online starting today. You can watch it below.

If you haven't seen it, you should really check it out. You can jump in at any time - the show isn't exactly plot intensive. It's based on a comedy duo from New Zealand called Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement. They've been performing musical comedy for years as the basis of a BBC radio show, and this turned into an HBO show set in NYC last year. The show centers around the duo trying to make it in NYC and cultivate an American fanbase. It's confusing - they're real guys doing a fictional show about their musician alter-egos. It's ridiculous and hilarious.


December 12, 2008

tgif top 10

I have no idea why I thought of this.

Top 10 Unheard/Rarely Used Character Names:

  1. Gordon Shumway - "Alf" (Alf)

  2. Hillary Norman Peterson - "Norm" (Cheers)

  3. Benjamin Franklin Pierce - "Hawkeye" (M*A*S*H)

  4. Walter Bradley - "Cockroach" (The Cosby Show)

  5. Jerome McElroy - "Chef" (South Park)

  6. Warren Weber - "Potsie" (Happy Days)

  7. Stanley Clark - "Shaggy" (Scooby Doo)

  8. Richard Stabone - "Boner" (Growing Pains)

  9. Jonas Grumby - "Skipper" (Gilligan's Island)

  10. Ruth Baxter - "Tootie" (Facts of Life)

Honorable mention goes to John Preston - "Mr. Big" (Sex & the City) - a name that was never completely revealed until the movie.

December 11, 2008

2009 golden globe nominees

I love the Golden Globes. They are so fun. I love that there's eating and drinking and movie stars and TV stars all in the same room. I also love that they do ridiculous things like nominate James Franco for Best Supporting Actor in Pineapple Express.

Here are the TV nominations with my picks in bold:

Best Television Series - Drama
Dexter
House
In Treatment
Mad Men

True Blood

Best Performance By An Actress In A Television Series - Drama
Sally Field, Brothers And Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law And Order: Special Victims Unit
January Jones, Mad Men
Anna Paquin, True Blood
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

Best Performance By An Actor In A Television Series - Drama
Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Hugh Laurie, House
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Tudors

Best Television Series - Comedy Or Musical
30 Rock
Californication
Entourage
The Office

Weeds

Best Performance By An Actress In A Television Series -Comedy Or Musical
Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Debra Messing, The Starter Wife
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

Best Performance By An Actor In A Television Series - Comedy Or Musical
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Kevin Connolly, Entourage
David Duchovny, Californication
Tony Shalhoub, Monk

Best Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
A Raisin In The Sun
Bernard And Doris
Cranford
John Adams
Recount

Best Performance By An Actress In A Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Judi Dench, Cranford
b. Catherine Keener, An American Crime
Laura Linney, John Adams
Shirley Maclaine, Coco Chanel
Susan Sarandon, Bernard And Doris

Best Performance By An Actor In A Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Ralph Fiennes, Bernard And Doris
Paul Giamatti, John Adams
Kevin Spacey, Recount
Kiefer Sutherland, 24: Redemption
Tom Wilkinson, Recount

Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Series, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Eileen Atkins, Cranford
Laura Dern, Recount
Melissa George, In Treatment
Rachel Griffiths, Brothers And Sisters
Dianne Wiest, In Treatment

Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Series, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For Television
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Denis Leary, Recount
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Blair Underwood, In Treatment
Tom Wilkinson, John Adams

December 10, 2008

bye bye o'malley

We've been hearing the rumors for a while now, and it's official. Dr. O'Malley is leaving Seattle Grace. It's not a huge shock. T.R. Knight's storyline has been virtually nonexistent this season, which is a real shame because I think he's one of the strongest talents in the bunch. T.R. has asked to be released from his contract. No word yet on whether it will be a big dramatic exit for the character or just a simple write off. I'm not expecting much because I'm guessing headwriter Shonda Rhimes is none too happy with him.

This season has been focused on Izzie and her undead boyfriend (Rhimes claims that some sort of brain problem will soon explain her delusions), Callie's love life, Lexi whining, and interns performing morbid procedures on one another. Anyone else bored? Derek has basically become a supporting character, and Bailey isn't far behind.

Ahh well, this happens to all shows at some point. I just hope it doesn't become an EResque revolving door of characters. I'm going to miss T.R., but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before someone else scoops him up.

December 9, 2008

nbc night moves

We've been waiting a while to see how NBC would handle Jay Leno's departure from The Tonight Show this year. There was talk that they would change their minds and extend his contract, or Leno would move to ABC to start a new show. His ratings have been very strong, so Leno had the upperhand in negotiations. And NBC made a huge move to keep him.


Leno will still have his own show Monday thru Friday...on NBC...at 10pm. As planned, Conan O'Brian will take over The Tonight Show and Jimmy Fallon will take Conan's spot. This means there will be three hours of late night television on NBC. The network aims to use the momentum of Leno at 10pm to keep viewers on the network through the new Tonight Show and into Jimmy Fallon.


It's an interesting concept, but a huge programming decision. That means NO slots for 10pm shows (or 9pm for central folks), leaving only two hours for primetime programming on NBC. It's not a huge shock because Ben Silverman (NBC prez) hasn't been doing a stellar job lining up successful shows during that hour. But traditionally, it was a big money maker for NBC - shows like ER and Law & Order SVU have had homes there for years. Admittedly, in the DVR/TiVo age, I rarely watch 10pm shows live. So, I do understand the decision. But this really is a big leap of faith for Silverman.


In terms of hosts, I love Conan, and I'm glad they didn't go back on the decision to finally give him the best seat in the house. Less love for Leno, but he is a crowd pleaser, especially among older audiences, so maybe this is the right spot for him. Jimmy Fallon. What has he been doing? I loved him as the cute newbie on SNL, but his act got a little tired after a while. He has a lot to prove. And NBC is trying to get a jump on screen testing by airing webisodes in advance of the new show. Here is Fallon's first attempt. Thoughts? Keep working on reading those cue cards, friend.

December 8, 2008

sunday mornings with shrek

David Gregory was officially named the new host of Meet the Press. I'm not going to over-analyze it because I think it's unfair to judge before he starts. It goes without saying that no one is going to fill Russert's role. It won't be the same show, and it shouldn't be. A new host should make their mark on the program. I think Gregory has strong potential in this seat, but sometimes he struggles too much between trying to be likable and trying to be a hardass, and it comes off as slightly obnoxious and patronizing. Hate to say it, but he should also take a page from the Russert handbook and tone down his sometimes-too-heavy-handed leftiness. And he's a giant.

December 5, 2008

the vent

Apparently, this is my week of videos because I'm about to post another one.

I don't know what this says about my sense of romanticism, but this scene from last night's Grey's Anatomy is one of my favorite kissing scenes of all time.

tgif top 10

This week, I'm looking at a comedic device that drives me crazy: the unseen character. I really hate it. I'm the type of viewer that wants to know everything about each character. I want to see your mother, your sister, and your junior prom date. I hate that we still haven't seen Charlie, even in the movies. So, here is my frustrating list.

Top 10 Unseen TV Characters
  1. Nanny (Muppet Babies) - We only ever saw her legs.

  2. Vera Peterson (Cheers) - Norm's frequently mentioned wife.

  3. Maris Crane (Frasier) - Niles' frequently mentioned wife.

  4. Ugly Naked Guy (Friends) - Maybe it's best that we didn't see.

  5. Tie: Kramer's buddy Bob Saccamo from New Jersey & Steinbrenner (Seinfeld)

  6. Morty Fine (The Nanny) - Fran's father. We often saw his toupee.

  7. Charlie (Charlie's Angels)

  8. The Gooch (Diff'rent Strokes) - The bully who constantly tormented Arnold.

  9. Stan Walker (Will & Grace) - This one plagues me.

  10. Diane (Twin Peaks) - The mysterious recipient of Special Agent Cooper's audio messages.
Honorable mention goes to Wilson of Home Improvement, a trick that never lost its charm.

December 4, 2008

blogger confession

If you read this blog, it's important for you to know one thing. I love American Idol. Love it. You can tell me that American Idol is everything that's wrong with consumerism and celebrity and music in society today, but I will bop you on the head because I don't care. These kids get me every time.

And it's coming back in January. If this promo doesn't give you goosebumps, then Santa is bringing you coal.



P.S. that was my 50th blog!

December 3, 2008

this is amazing: proposition 8, the musical

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

December 1, 2008

bunch of turkeys

I have been out of the TV loop for the past week using family with premium channels to furiously catch up on Dexter and Entourage (more on this later). But a few things have transpired during this time:

  • Rosie Live was canned pretty much as soon as it aired. Ratings and reviews were horrible, so NBC won't be pursuing any follow up shows. I only caught a minute or two and it was pretty painful. Deep down, I do think Rosie is a very talented entertainer, but unfortunately - agree or disagree - she turns people off when some abrupt opinions. And you really need to be loved to make a variety show work. Incidentally, the Osbourne family is trying their hand at a variety program that is expected to air early next year on FOX. I'll admit, I'm intrigued. I do love them.

  • NBC just announced its January schedule (not for the entire spring season, just January). The struggling network replaced Chuck and Heroes (to return in February) with two new reality shows Superstars of Dance (sound familiar?) and Mamas Boys (moms choose mates for their sons, from the genius of Ryan Seacrest). Howie Mandel has another show premiering on Fridays called Howie Do It. I don't want to know. And Friday Night Lights comes back for its third season on January 16.

  • TMZ (the show on FOX) was just renewed for TWO more seasons. For real.

  • Grey's Anatomy is pissing me off. I have confirmation that Dead Denny will be on the show AT LEAST through February. This is starting to get insulting. Also, Mary McDonnell premiered as Dr. Dixon, the heart surgeon with Asperger's Syndrome, two weeks ago. I was thrown off by her depiction of this syndrome, and I guess I wasn't alone. A reader from Michael Ausiello's column, who is living with Asperger's had this to say about the portrayal: "robotic and single focused -- which we are but not to that degree. Grey's missed the boat on this one. Instead of normal with slight social misperceptions, it came off as a bad version of a high-functioning autistic, and they're two different things." Admittedly, I don't know enough to judge for myself, but I really think Shonda Rhimes needs to shape it up.

  • Finally, a show I haven't really talked about since the premiere: Fringe. I really, really want to love this show, but it's getting to be a struggle. It had the potential to be my new X-Files, and I think Joshua Jackson and John Noble are brilliant. Unfortunately, the female lead, Anna Torv, blows chunks. She is horrible and emotionless, which is really too bad because J.J. Abrams tends to pick stellar leading ladies (Jennifer Garner, Kerri Russell). But I did just read some good news - Ari Graynor has just been cast as Anna's younger sister. If you don't know her, I have a feeling you will soon. She appeared in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist as a hilarious drunk girl and also played Meadow's college roommate on Sopranos. The girl has it. Here's hoping they kill off Anna Torv and replace with cooler sis character.

That's all I got.

November 23, 2008

last days of our lives?

Admit it, if you are a girl or a guy with any sort of appreciation for drama, you spent at least a year of your life dedicated to Days of Our Lives. Whether it was rushing home from high school to catch it, scheduling time between college classes, or in my case, watching with my grandfather when I was 6 years old, you've gone through a Days Faze. I read last week that NBC renewed the Days contract for an additional 18 months. In regular TV time, this might sound like a lot, but in soap speak it's not. Their last contract was for 5 years, and even that was considered short. Is it possible that daytime soaps have finally become outdated? I mean, Days is the sole surviving NBC soap. ABC still has a couple of long-running classics like General Hospital (personal favorite) and One Life to Live. If you think about it, the shelf life of daytime soaps is pretty incredible. Days has been in since 1965. That's more than 40 years.

Then, I found out that the Days producers have reacted to the abbreviated contract renewal with some major changes. They fired John and Marlena. Can you believe this? Days without John and Marlena? They are the center of the universe that is Days of Our Lives. They are an institution. I haven't watched the show in 10 years, and I know this is still the case. Those two have seen it all...death, rebirth, evil twins, kidnappings, marriage, divorce, priesthood, infidelity, satan, possession, plane crashes, 80s hair. Deidre Hall (Marlena) has been on the show since 1976, and Drake Hogestyn (John) has been on since 1986. (Incidentally, Deidre and Drake are much cooler soap names than John and Marlena).

Apparently, they're using these 18 months to try to update the show and appeal to a new generation - perhaps younger characters and more relevant plotlines...like Marlena's daughter's Facebook page will be possessed by the devil rather than her actual body (much scarier).

Truth be told, I'll never be an avid Days viewer again, but it's sort of comforting knowing it's there. Like, if I'm ever home sick, and I flip on the TV at 1:00, there's John and Marlena. And it takes about 15 minutes to be caught up on the entire plot. It's just nice to know it's there. I have a feeling this is the beginning of the end for Days. After all, like sand through the hour glass...

November 21, 2008

tragic news

It's a sad day for TV, kids. I'm temporarily interrupting my regularly scheduled Friday top 10 list to report some really unfortunate news from stupid ABC. The network has opted not to order additional episodes of Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, or Dirty Sexy Money for this season effectively cancelling all three series. Good TV just took a serious hit, and it's a damn shame. The three shows will complete their 13 episode orders, but that does not necessarily mean the remaining episodes will air. The networks usually try to sell the package of 13 to international networks. My guess, we won't see any further episodes after the holiday hiatus.

I'm stepping up on my soapbox for this one. Whether you watched them (or enjoyed them), these shows presented a creativity in scripted television that we haven't seen in quite some time. ABC made the bold step of straying from the norm with Pushing Daisies set in a semi-fantasy world and tackling major current issues with Eli Stone in a way that didn't hit you over the head with a moral imperative. There was enough of hope and humanity mixed into both shows to make you realize that television doesn't always have to be about a twisted murder mystery and winning a million dollars. Without getting into a deeper sociological analysis, which I am certainly not qualified to do, I'm left wondering: what does this say about the audience?

(Dirty Sexy Money was basically a soapy updated version of Dallas, but I loved it just as well because the writing was strong and the acting was genuine.)

As much as I'd like to, I really can't blame ABC. Television is a business, and these three shows just weren't bringing home the bacon. They took at chance on some offbeat pilots, and they just didn't deliver an audience. I only hope this doesn't discourage them from trying again in the future.

Does this mean we're relegated to 100 more incarnations of crappy CSI and Deal or No Deal? Is creative scripted television a dying business? Disappointing.

November 20, 2008

single ladies

To mess with this video is sacrilegious, but you gotta love this guy on the Bonnie Hunt Show. This was live in front of a green screen!

November 18, 2008

this is concerning

Unhappy people watch more TV: study

By James Hibberd,
Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – An extensive new research study has found that unhappy people watch more TV while those consider themselves happy spend more time reading and socializing.

The University of Maryland analyzed 34 years of data collected from more than 45,000 participants and found that watching TV might make you feel good in the short term but is more likely to lead to overall unhappiness.

"The pattern for daily TV use is particularly dramatic, with 'not happy' people estimating over 30 percent more TV hours per day than 'very happy' people," the study says. "Television viewing is a pleasurable enough activity with no lasting benefit, and it pushes aside time spent in other activities -- ones that might be less immediately pleasurable, but that would provide long-term benefits in one's condition. In other words, TV does cause people to be less happy."

The study, published in the December issue of Social Indicators Research, analyzed data from thousands of people who recorded their daily activities in diaries over the course of several decades. Researchers found that activities such as sex, reading and socializing correlated with the highest levels of overall happiness.

Watching TV, on the other hand, was the only activity that had a direct correlation with unhappiness.

"TV is not judgmental nor difficult, so people with few social skills or resources for other activities can engage in it," says the study. "Furthermore, chronic unhappiness can be socially and personally debilitating and can interfere with work and most social and personal activities, but even the unhappiest people can click a remote and be passively entertained by a TV. In other words, the causal order is reversed for people who watch television; unhappiness leads to television viewing."

Unhappily married couples also watch more TV: "(Happily married couples) engage in 30 percent more sex, and they attend religious services more and read newspapers on more days," reports the study. "While those not happy with their marriages watch more TV."

Yet there may be good news here for broadcasters. Commenting on the study, co-author John P. Robinson said the worsening economy could boost TV viewing.

"Through good and bad economic times, our diary studies, have consistently found that work is the major activity correlate of higher TV viewing hours," Robinson says. "As people have progressively more time on their hands, viewing hours increase."

Concludes the study: "These points have parallels with addiction; since addictive activities produce momentary pleasure but long-term misery and regret. People most vulnerable to addiction tend to be socially or personally disadvantaged, with TV becoming an opiate."

November 17, 2008

abc, we need to talk

Over the past few years, ABC has been dangerously close to wooing me away from my traditional NBC network loyalty. They've had an impressive rebranding effort. The network just released it's midseason schedule (usually starts after the holiday hiatus in late January). Introducing new shows midseason has become very trendy. Lost is a great example of one of the first major midseason victories for ABC. But, across the board, new series haven't been doing very well this year.

ABC is taking a few chances midseason, and I take issue with a few of them.

The following is a special message to ABC

Dear ABC,

This is why we're in a fight:
  • You left Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money in purgatory. No slot in the midseason line-up, but no cancellation. Answers please.
  • You keep bringing The Bachelor back. They never get married.
  • According to Jim, seriously?
  • Denny is back on Grey's for FIVE episodes. FIVE. He is dead. Leave it alone.
  • I'm hearing rumors of a new comedy called Cougar Town staring Courtney Cox. This does not bode well.
  • Two new midseason reality shows literally frighten me:
    1. Border Security USA: behind the scenes at the government's fight against terrorism. Shot on location throughout the US, the series will focus on the efforts of border protection agencies to halt illegal smuggling and immigration
    2. True Beauty: Executive producers Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher re-define the concept of beauty. Vanessa Minnillo, Cheryl Tiegs and Nolé Marin will judge six stunning females and four handsome males who will live together in a Los Angeles mansion as they undergo a series of challenges to determine who is truly the most beautiful.
This is why you might be forgiven:
  • You're keeping Eli Stone afloat.
  • Lost
  • You switched Private Practice to Thursdays after Grey's. The only place viewers can tolerate it.
  • You have two promising new midseason shows:
    1. The Unusuals: Ensemble dramedy about oddball NYPD characters, including Amber Tamblyn, written by Noah Hawley, who writes for Bones.
    2. Castle: Centers around a horror novelist who helps solve crimes with NYPD

I'm still unclear on my feelings about the adoption of Scrubs from NBC for what will probably be one final season. Why did you do this? Why do you confuse me so?

Your friend,
Maura

November 14, 2008

tgif top 10

Sometimes I wish the guy from The Wonder Years narrated my life. I think it would be comforting. Back then, Wonder Years was one of the only narrated shows. The format worked perfectly for that show and added a depth that you just didn't see in other shows at that time. More recently, Sex & the City started a trend (among many) for a resurgence of narrated shows. There are roughly two types: the storytelling (How I Met Your Mother) or thematic (Grey's Anatomy) narration. And sometimes the narration is done by a character within the show (Scrubs) and sometimes it's just a straight narrator (Arrested Development). Whatever the style, it needs to flow and blend into the show or it can be disastrous. Here's a list of those that have done it well.


Top 10 Narrated Shows
  1. The Wonder Years

  2. Arrested Development

  3. Sex & the City

  4. Desperate Housewives

  5. Pushing Daisies

  6. Dexter

  7. Scrubs

  8. How I Met Your Mother

  9. My Name Is Earl

  10. Grey's Anatomy

Honorable mention goes to Gossip Girl and Veronica Mars, which are/were both narrated by the fabulous Kristen Bell.

November 13, 2008

mad cancellations

Don't pass out, it wasn't Mad Men. But FOX just cancelled MadTV after 14 seasons. Admittedly, I was never a big fan, but this was definitely an iconic staple on FOX. Anyone sad? Interestingly, this was the second longrunning show cancelled by FOX this month - King of the Hill was just put to death after 13 years, but it looks like ABC will be picking it up. Seems like an odd fit for the alphabet network, but we'll see how it does. MadTV producers are also shopping the show around to other networks - Comedy Central, perhaps?

In other cancellation news, NBC served up the axe to Lipstick Jungle and My Own Worst Enemy (Christian Slater's drama). I never got into Enemy, but I will admit to developing a slightly embarassing weakness for Jungle. I blame Andrew McCarthy. I never got over Pretty in Pink, but really, who has?

November 10, 2008

police report

The number of cops dramas on TV is most definitely overkill, but that doesn't mean there aren't some really solid shows in the mix. A couple of updates on my favorites...

Life was just picked up for a full season. This one was new last season on Monday nights, reemerged in the fall on the dreaded Friday line-up, and was just moved to Wednesdays with promising ratings. It still has my attention because the cases are just quirky and weird, and so are the characters.

Law & Order (the original) premiered last week on Wednesday at 10pm. The show was in grave danger of cancellation last year, and NBC basically gave them one last chance at redemption. They pulled through. We've seen dozens of detectives and lawyers go in and out of this cast. Last season introduced two fantastic characters, which I think saved the show. Jeremy Sisto (Elton of Clueless) was brought on to play Det. Cyrus Lupo (how cool is that name?) as the first suitable partner for Det. Green (played by the fantastic Jesse L. Martin) to even come close to the genius of Jerry Orbach as Lennie Brisco. They had instant chemistry, although I think Martin would have chemistry with a ham sandwich.

The show also welcomed new ADA Michael Cutter (with the force of nature that is Jack McCoy now serving as DA) played by Linus Roache, a British import who has absolutely rocked a role that was so well established by Sam Waterston. Ratings last season remained strong and steady, and we eventually said a sad goodbye to Green and welcomed Anthony Anderson playing Det. Kevin Bernard as Lupo's new partner. I was skeptical at first, but the season premiere last week started to show some strong chemistry between the two. And I would be remiss without mentioning Lt. Anita "Lou" Van Buren played by S. Epatha Merkerson, who comes back every season to basically serve as the glue that holds the show together.

All this is to say, the grandmother of cop dramas is still queen in my book.

Michael Rapaport. On a final semi-cop-related note, Michael Rapaport, who has been playing an FBI agent on Prison Break, is developing a new show for CBS that looks promising. It will be a one-hour drama based on social workers in NYC. We often see social workers as side characters on cop dramas, and I think there are some really interesting and important stories to tell. Rapaport, one of my favorite unsung actors, will produce the show with Denis Leary, so let's hope for a script that brings in a little comedy on what will be an intense premise.

November 7, 2008

tgif top 10 (warning: super long)

In the history of television shows, there is good and there is great. And then there is The West Wing. This week calls for a special top 10 list. Here's my very best attempt at naming my favorite West Wing episodes. PLEASE add your favorite episodes, scenes and/or quotes to the comments.

Top 10 West Wing Episodes

1. "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" (Season 2) This is obviously a memorable one because it follows the shooting at the end of season one, but the best part are the flashbacks to Bartlet's campaign. You see how all of the staff came on board. Leo asking Josh to leave Senator Hoyne's campaign to take a chance on a long shot, Josh visiting old friend Sam telling him it's "the real thing," Toby lives in fear of being fired from the campaign because he's never won, and brings in CJ who was just fired from her fancy LA PR job, Donna lying about her degrees to become Josh's assistant...And the best scene is Bartlet talking to Josh in the airport after Josh has just learned that his father died.

Woman in Bar: You've been a... what do you call it?
Toby: Professional political operative.
Woman in Bar: You've been one your whole life?
Toby: There was a while there I was in Elementary School.

2. "Two Cathedrals" (Season 2) I almost cry even thinking about this one. Dear Mrs. Landingham's funeral, just after President Bartlet's MS has gone public, and he is deciding whether to run for re-election. The final scene where Bartlet, alone in the cathedral, curses in Latin and stomps a cigarette is perfection.

Mrs. Landingham: You know, if you don't want to run again, I respect that. But if you don't run because you think it's going to be too hard or you think you're going to lose well, God, Jed, I don't even wanna know you.

3. "He Shall From Time to Time" (Season 1) Another drama-filled episode when Bartlet delivers his first State of the Union, collapses because of his MS, and Leo publicly admits to having an alcohol problem. Toby shines in this episode when he convinces the President to scratch the line that says "The era of big government is over" even though it tested well.

Toby: I want to change the sentiment. We're running away from ourselves...We have to say what we feel, that government no matter what it's failures in the past and in times to come for that matter, government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind. No one gets left behind. An instrument of good. I have no trouble understanding why the line tested well, Josh, but I don't think that means we should say it. I think that means we should change it."

4. "Election Day" (Season 7) This episode broke everyone's heart when Leo, played by the great John Mahoney, dies on the campaign trail.

(Josh gazes at a picture of Leo after learning of the Santos victory.)
Josh: Thanks, boss.

5. "In Excelsis Deo" (Season 1) I consider this Toby's best episode (just learned that he won the Emmy for it). Near Christmas, a homeless Vietnam vet is found dead near the memorial wearing a coat that Toby gave to Good Will. Toby tries to arrange a proper funeral for him, and we learn that Mrs. Landingham lost two sons in Vietnam, after they were drafted out of medical school. She joins Toby at the funeral.

Bartlet: Toby, If we start pulling strings like this don't you think every homeless vet is going to start crawling out of the woodwork?
Toby: I can only hope so, sir.

6. "Impact Winter" (Season 6) We were all worrying at this point without Aaron Sorkin, but this episode was one of the great ones leading up to the election story in the final season. An asteroid may be headed for Earth, Bartlet has become temporarily paralyzed by MS, Josh is acting as Chief of Staff, and Donna is forced to quit without telling him because he's so busy.

Bartlet (about to be carried down the stairs): I'm just saying, you drop me, that's a moment that follows you the rest of your life.

7. "Celestial Navigation" (Season 1) Josh is a guest lecturer at a university where he tells a story of the previous day when he failed miserably filling in as press secretary for CJ. Also, Sam and Toby drive to Connecticut to bail out the presumed Supreme Court nominee, who has been wrongly detained for drunk driving. Some of the best scenes are Charlie trying to wake the President up - he is not a morning person.

Bartlet: You told the press I have a secret plan to fight inflation?
Josh: No, I did not. Let me be absolutely clear I DID NOT do that. Except yes, I did that.

8. "Holy Night" (Season 4) Will officially moves into the West Wing and suffers some hazing. This is a Christmas episode, where Toby's estranged father shows up for forgiveness. And it's one of my favorite CJ/Danny episodes - Danny, dressed as Santa, smooches her.

Toby: Why do you sit in the lobby instead of my office?
Will: The Holy Line of Demarcation. (indicates the floor) Right there. It's where the West Wing starts and I won't go past it.
Toby: I wasn't listening to anything you just said.
Will: I said the Holy Line Of Demarcation...
Toby: It's because I didn't care

9. "Arctic Radar" (Season 4) This is just a silly episode with some of my favorite Josh/Donna moments. Donna asks Josh to find out of Jack Reese likes her and is horrified by the anecdotes he shares with Jack. Sam heads to California to begin his campaign (cue failed spin-off plans).

Donna: You have to talk to him again.
Josh
: Why?
Donna
: Cuz now he's gonna think I'm flaky.
Josh
: Maybe but he's not gonna care.
Donna
: Why not?
Josh: Guys'll go out with anyone.



10. "Twenty-Five" (Season 4) One of the more suspenseful episodes, this marked the end of the Aaron Sorkin years. Zoey has just been abducted and we see some of the best Jed/Abby scenes. Bartlet decides to step down from the Presidency temporarily leaving a scary Republican Speaker of the House in charge. Toby's twins are born, and he wonders if he's capable of being a loving dad.

Will (on Bartlet): I think it’s a fairly stunning act of patriotism and a fairly ordinary act of fatherhood.

Toby (to his newborn son): I don't want to alarm you or anything, but I'm Dad. And for you, son, for you, this will be the last time I pass the buck, but I think it should be clear from the get-go that it was Mom who named you Huckleberry. I guess she was feeling like life doesn't present enough challenges to overcome on its own.

November 5, 2008

congratulations mr. president-elect

A truly historic TV moment.

November 4, 2008

news alert: dr. hahn is dunzo

Brooke Smith, who plays Dr. Erica Hahn on Grey's Anatomy, is parting ways with the show. And it's not pretty. Apparently, the network is unhappy with the explicit nature of the recent lesbian plotline and the character itself. Smith was fired with no warning.

As a long time Grey's fan, I know the show is struggling, but this story arc has been very well-written. They were treating a gay relationship just like a straight one. No big scandal or political statement, just two people trying to figure out if they're attracted to one another. Sure, Callie going to Mark for pointers about "undiscovered territory" was a little much, but the fact is, this was much more mild then many of the sexual themes that we've seen on this show. Alex McSlutty and Mark McSteamy are allowed to sleep around with every nurse and intern in the hospital, but a lesbian relationship is giving the network "cold feet"? Disappointing.

Dr. Hahn's last episode is actually this Thursday. They're not even writing her out - they just cut the character (proves this wasn't a plot-driven decision). After she gave this amazing monologue last week:

November 3, 2008

what is a nielsen family and why won’t they adopt me?

Let’s be honest, no fool is reading this blog right now. It’s the day before one of the most emotional and contentious elections in history. You’re glued to any and all of the 24-hour news networks obsessively checking projections and early exit polls.

But if you have landed here, then you must be looking for a breather. A little break from the insanity to avoid hair loss and cardiac arrest. So, let’s talk about a completely different kind of poll number: a Nielsen Rating. Exciting, right?

I realized that I have no idea where TV ratings come from. I have a vague idea of what Nielsen Ratings are, but don’t these only measure families and/or households that have been designated “Nielsen families”? Who chooses these families? How nuclear are we talking? How do we know the numbers aren’t skewed? I don’t own a home and move every 1.5 to 2 years. How do I know the Nielsen people haven’t been looking all over for me? What does that mean for the accurate measurement of my demographic?

I realize that this system has been well respected and relied upon for decades by some of the most savvy business professionals in the country – TV and ad execs. There must be a reason for that. So, I consulted a trusty source* for some research.

Here what I found out:

  • Nielsen Media Research is an independent firm that operates in over 100 countries and was founded in 1923
  • Ratings are gathered by one of two ways: 1) Self-reporting Diaries, where viewers of various demographics are asked to keep a written record of his or her viewing habits, generally for a week, in exchange for being advanced a nominal amount (up to $30 in the United States) – PICK ME! PICK ME! 2) Set Meters, which are small devices connected to televisions in selected homes.
  • In 2005, Nielsen began measuring the usage of digital video recordings (TiVo, DVR) and initial results indicate that time-shifted viewing will have a significant impact on television ratings, but networks are not yet figuring these new results into their ad rates at the resistance of advertisers because no one watches ads on recorded programs.

I did find some criticism of the rating system:

  • Since viewers are aware of being part of the Nielsen sample, it can lead to bias in recording and viewing habits. Isn’t this psychology 101? But it is interesting in this case because, compared to the set meter, self-reporting diaries are more likely to report news programming and popular prime time programming and less likely to report daytime and late night viewing. People don’t want to admit watching General Hospital and Carson Daly!
  • Another criticism of the measuring system itself is that it is not random in the statistical sense of the word. Only a small fraction of the population is selected and only those that actually accept are used as the sample size.

Nielsen is supposedly making improvements to the ratings system by finding ways to include "group" viewing settings like college dormitories, sports bars, airport lounges, etc. which are not traditionally measured. They are also incorporating an Internet ratings measurement system that will allow them to collect demographics on YouTube, iTunes, and network site viewings.

We're going to be seeing a lot of major decisions about network line-ups in the coming weeks. For all of the fan outrage that comes out of show cancellations, it's pretty amazing that there is basically one system of measurement upon which all decisions are made. With the transition to all digitial broadcasting in 2009, will it be possible to just collect anonynmous tally of all televisions tuned into a program? Is that an invasion of privacy?

There's an interesting site that tracks a "cancellation index." Check it out. I'm not sure if that was of interest to anyone but me. You can now go back to CNN.

*wikipedia

October 31, 2008

tgif top 10

Happy Halloween! In celebration, I'm straying a bit from a strictly TV-related top ten list. Here are my favorite Halloween movies. This includes movies specific to Halloween as well as those dealing with macabre and horror most often seen at middle school Halloween parties. I'm crossing many genres, so this is not in any particular order.

Top 10 Halloween Movies
  1. It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

  2. Hocus Pocus

  3. The Exocist

  4. Bedknobs & Broomsticks

  5. Halloween (the original)

  6. Young Frankenstein (personal favorite)

  7. Nightmare on Elm Street

  8. The Witches

  9. Beetlejuice

  10. Ernest Scared Stupid (second personal favorite)

October 30, 2008

stunt casting

Stunt casting is a time-honored tradition to boost ratings, which you most often see on new shows, old shows that have gone a little stale, or around sweeps. There happened to be three great examples of the "categories" of stunt casting last week.

1. The Life of the Party
This type of casting for fun promotion usually seen on comedies. Will & Grace drove this category into the ground during their last couple of seasons, but it made for some really funny episodes. Chuck employed this technique last week with Nicole Richie, and they knocked it out of the park. Nicole is a great pick for this kind of stunt because she's not a respected actor, so she won't be picked apart for an Emmy-winning performance. She's a notorious paparazzi celeb, but not necessarily disliked. Luckily for Chuck, she rocked this role. Unlike Paris' few guest appearances, which are always awkward and weird, Nicole was perfection. The character was a great fit. She played the bitchy popular girl from Sarah's (CIA agent) high school, who reappears and has connections to Russian weapon smugglers. Chuck and Sarah pose as a couple and attend the girls' high school reunion where Sarah and Nicole get in a great Kill Bill style fight. Two notes: Nicole's character was called "Heather Chandler" (special prize of you get that reference), and her nerdy husband (Quote: "I married a nerd because he was supposed to get rich.") was played by Ben Savage! Welcome back to the small screen, Corey Matthews! Overall, Nicole looked gorgeous, her acting was actually pretty strong, and the character fit very well into the overall plot.

2. The Ringer
The Ringer is a technique more commonly associated with dramas. The Law & Order series does this pretty often because it's a good way to breath life into a sometimes repetitive plotline. Problem with Law & Order, you always know the guest star did it! They're not going to bring in Robin Williams to play the "first guess" suspect. I digress. Eli Stone employed this device last week with Katie Holmes. I know what you're thinking. "Katie Holmes is weirdo Scientology paparazzi foddering Mrs. Cruise, doesn't that qualify as category one?" Common misconception, we forget that Katie Holmes is actually a legit actress. And damnit, she's pretty talented. Sure, there's huge celebrity recognition, which will go a long way to help a struggling new show, but this is a serious show that would not sacrifice reputation for a silly stunt cast. The show runner, Greg Berlanti, is pure genius. And he also happened to have the helm at a little show called Dawson's Creek. He discovered Katie Holmes, and he called in a ringer for this guest spot. It worked. Don't get me wrong, Katie creeps me out. But she fell right into this character for me. She plays Grace, a human rights lawyer who captures Eli's attention. If you watch the show, you know that each episode involves one of Eli's ridiculous brain-aneurysm-induced "visions", which turn out to be a life lesson of some sort. This episode began with Eli's vision of Katie singing a sexy show girl version of "Hit Me With A Hot Note." Later at a baseball game, Eli meets the real-life version: Grace, a clumsy human rights lawyer who drops hot dogs and beverages on the fans around her. Turns out, Grace has a heart condition which could end her life abruptly at any time - very similar to Eli's aneurysm. She's headed to Kenya just as quickly as she came into Eli's life, but I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of her.

3. Girl Needs a Job
The third category might be my least favorite. In this case, a washed up or struggling actor has a good agent, who manages to get him or her on a semi-successful show. It's played like the actor is doing the show a favor by appearing as a special guest star, but the reverse is actually true. We saw this last year with Britney Spears' guest stint on How I Met Your Mother. It was the first time we saw Britney post-family clean up job, and it actually worked pretty well for her. Ugly Betty tried to do the same for Lindsay Lohan. Lindsay was actually signed on for 6 episodes this season, which is a pretty significant story arc. I just read that this has been cut down to 3 or 4 episodes because of some "personality conflicts." This is for the best. Lindsay's character - former high school nemesis of Betty - seems out of place and unnecessary in the plotline. Also, her acting leaves something to be desired. Lindsay, get a real job.

October 29, 2008

historic television

This is certainly not a political blog. Let's be honest, it's barely an intellectual blog. It's for fun, and I'm not about to change that. Real life is everywhere and sometimes you need a little escapism. For me, this is where TV comes in.

But TV also witnesses, affects, and interprets history, perhaps more than any other media. This is most evident during an election year. We've all heard plenty of debate about the "CNN effect" on the campaign process and arguments over existence of objective journalism. This could drive us into a chicken and egg argument, so I will refrain. But I will reference the father of modern public relations (nerd alert), Marshall McLuhan, who said "the medium is the message." Television has become it's own animal. Like it or not, elections will always be interpreted by the state of modern television at the time.

Bored yet? All this is to say that we will see many historical TV moments over the next few months - a major election night, the end of a two term presidency, an inauguration, and the first 100 days of a new presidency. In a way, one of these moments is happening tonight. In an unprecedented move by a candidate, Senator Obama has purchased space on NBC, CBS, and FOX to run a 30-minute infomercial providing what is basically a closing argument in advance of the election on Tuesday.

Regardless of your political leanings or opinions about campaign financing, this is a truly historic move on the part of the Obama campaign. I mean, they actually managed to move the World Series back 15 minutes! Many will be turned off by this spot, sick of political ads and news coverage taking over the airwaves. Many others have made their decision and will either tune out or tune in as a crazed Obama fan and save this on her DVR for years to come. I hope the rest will see it as an opportunity to gather more information in preparation for their final decision.

Now back to TV where I belong. ABC will not run the Obama ad. Whether this was an ABC decision or a financial decision by the campaign, it presents a unique opportunity to drive viewers not interested in the ad to a program that needs a ratings boost. In a stroke of pure genius, they moved Pushing Daisies to this slot. I've expressed my love for this show, so if you're looking for something different tonight, check it out. This show is the epitome of escapism. One final programming note, my pick for "best show that no one is watching this season" is Life (see past praise). Great show that was relegated to die on Friday nights, which was just moved to 9pm on Wednesdays. Happy to see NBC give it a fighting chance because it really is a well-written show with a super talented cast.

Now that my rant is done, I'll take a moment to remind my gigantic readership to go out and vote next week!

October 27, 2008

mad men on snl

I'm still processing last night's Mad Men finale and mourning the end of the season, so before I pick apart the season, here are two SNL skits from Saturday. The first one is hilarious (boys, take notes), and I loved to see cameos from John Slattery and Elizabeth Moss.



October 24, 2008

tgif top 10

Following the previous post, I thought it would be fun to create list of the top 10 spinoff shows. After a small amount of research, I found that I was in way over my head. There are entire websites dedicated to this topic. It's quite overwhelming. Did you know that Happy Days and All in the Family each had FIVE spinoffs? Many of which were very successful. It's clear that the popularity of spinoffs has weaned in recent years, but it still seems to be a very appealing concept to viewers. So, here's a small selection of some of my favorite spinoffs.

Top 10 TV Spinoffs
  1. The Facts of Life spun off Diff'rent Strokes. Did you know Mrs. Garrett was first the Drummond family maid on Diff'rent Strokes before she became the house mother that we all know and love?

  2. Laverne & Shirley spun off Happy Days. Remember Fonzie set him and Richie up on a double date with Laverne & Shirley? They made some changes to the characters though because Shirley was originally presented as a bit of a hussy with a potty mouth.

  3. The Jeffersons spun off All in the Family. This all started when Lionel Jefferson moved nextdoor to the Bunkers, which were some of the funniest episodes when Lionel just mocked Archie's bigotry. Then came father George Jefferson, who was cleverly written as the African American version of Archie...thickheaded, etc. And The Jeffersons was born.

  4. Daria spun off Beavis & Butthead. Anyone remember Daria? I loved this MTV cartoon. Daria was a side character on Beavis & Butthead, who moved onto her own show, which I absolutely loved. I wanted to be her best friend in high school.

  5. Frasier spun off Cheers. I think the reason Frasier was so successful was because he was a more minor character on a hugely popular show. So, viewers were very accepting of an extension of Cheers, but it wasn't too much of a stretch to see Frasier in a new environment (unlike Joey).

  6. Rhoda spun off The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I was a little young for this one and mostly know it from Nick at Nite, but I remember really loving Rhoda. I always wanted to live in that apartment building with them. I think Rhoda didn't do as well - they married and then divorced the character to try to win an audience - but I still like her.

  7. Empty Nest spun off Golden Girls. Anything having to do with Golden Girls can do no wrong in my book.

  8. A Different World spun off The Cosby Show. Due to a limited TV allowance during my childhood (explains a lot), my relationship with The Cosby Show was also developed during Nick at Nite. I actually had no idea A Different World was a Cosby spinoff. Here's why: the show was first developed as Denise Huxtable's experience in college. Awesome, right? I LOVE Denise! But she only lasted one season oddly enough, then the show took a different turn (less of a sitcom feel). The show went on for 6 seasons with Debbie Allen producing. I need to get my hands on the DVD.

  9. Mork & Mindy also spun off Happy Days. Mork was actually introduced in Richie Cunningham's dream sequence. This one is just a classic.

  10. Just the 10 of Us spun off Growing Pains. Coach Lubbock, Mike Seaver's gym teacher, moved across the country for a job, which became the basis of Just the 10 of Us. I just really wanted to have 5 sisters. And I loved the episode where they performed "We Are Family."
Now you see why I could go on and on (read: how I spent my entire evening last night)? Maybe I'll do a top 10 list of failed spin offs in the future. Add some of your favorites to the comments...

October 23, 2008

private pick-up

ABC just made a relatively surprising move by picking up Private Practice for a full season. Ratings are at about 3.2/8 among the 18-49 audience with an average viewership of about 8.3 million. Definitely not stellar. To put it in perspective, it's a little worse than a mediocre CBS comedy.

That said, I have to admit that I still watch it. I don't necessarily enjoy it, but something compels me to keep it on my DVR. I blame Amy Brenneman (Violet) and Paul Adelstein (Cooper). Their characters are the strongest of the show, no doubt due to both actors' incredible talent. I don't know if it's enough to carry the show, but I'm thinking those power house actors (along with Taye Diggs and Tim Daly) are what motivated ABC to keep this one on for the full season. Better to hold onto them for as long as possible. Problem is, I'm not sure they can regain the viewers they have lost because it will always be seen as the not-better-than- Grey's-Addision-show. In this case, I think the spin-off factor hurt them, which is a shame because there have been some really interesting cases this season - much stronger potential than we saw in the abbreviated first season.

Having David Sutcliffe (Christopher of Gilmore Girls fame) on a recurring basis doesn't hurt either.

fringe help

Fringe is still my favorite new show of the season (possibly tied with Privileged to be explained at another date), but it is flailing a bit. The plot seems to be getting a little overambitious, and the writers are losing sight of developing audience attachment to the main characters - the first important step to securing a loyal fanbase. I still say lovers of Lost and X-Files need to check this out. But Televisionary, a great blog that I follow, recently spelled out 5 Suggestions to Improve Fringe. I couldn't agree more. Listen up Fox.

October 21, 2008

dexter renewal

Big news for Dexter fans. Showtime just picked up the series for two more seasons (in addition to the one in progress). Seasons 4 and 5 will each have 12 episodes. This is great news for the show, and a big vote of confidence from the network.

Here's quote from Showtime president:

"Dexter's enormous success is a tribute to the great achievements of its cast, the producing team, the author of the original book [Jeff Lindsay], and the gifted Michael C. Hall," says Showtime president of entertainment Robert Greenblatt. "I thought at best we would attract adevoted cult audience but soon realized that, ironically, this show is so thematically rich and layered with humanity that audiences of all kinds have flocked to it."

If you're not watching this show, you're in luck because it's actually much more fun to watch on DVD because you cannot stop watching once you've started. Get on it. Admittedly, I'm not caught up this season because of my lack of premium channels, but I'm hearing Jimmy Smits is a stellar addition to the cast.

Gossip Sidenote: Word on the street is that Michael C. Hall (Dexter) and Jennifer Carpenter (Debra) are officially dating. I know they are actors, but the brother/sister thing is still weird.

October 20, 2008

ratings shmatings

Rosie O'Donnell just signed a deal with NBC for a one-hour variety show to run on Thanksgiving eve. She's been pretty vocal about her desire to only return to television for a variety-type program. This is her chance, and it will feature music, comedy, celebs, and giveaways. If successful, NBC might make it a regular program. My question: Is there still an audience for something like this? At one time, Rosie was the queen of daytime, but she's alienated quite a few people in recent years. Who will watch it? Sure Sonny & Cher were huge, but isn't this format a little outdated?

This opens a whole can of worms about trends in television that could have me going on forever. There's no secret that reality programming has excelled considerably because it's cheap and there is a market for watching real people humiliate themselves on national television. But if you look at trends in scripted television, it's a little more difficult to diagnose.

I won't go into the history of the procedural drama and the rise and fall of the sitcom because we will be here all day, and I know you have other blogs with which you need to procrastinate. But I think this season serves as a bit of a litmus test for modern television.

The season opened with a decent variety of comedy and drama with some stale, but more inventive programming, which is good to see. For a few years, networks were a little gun shy about putting out anything too creative. Thus, 27 different iterations of both Law & Order and CSI. Procedural dramas are still huge, and that speaks to the audience. Shows like Law & Order require little effort on the part of the viewer, there's no storyline to follow, but instead a mini-movie each week. Gone are the days of primetime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty, which audiences followed religiously.

But newer shows like Lost have tried to bring back that dedicated audience and have proved there is still a market for it. A little more fantasy and imagination seems to be winning out - maybe as reality is feeling a little dim, viewers are looking for more escapism.

This brings us to what the ratings are looking like for some of my favorite new shows this season. Pushing Daisies - possibly the most brave move by a network in a while - is a crime investigation story set in a complicated fantasy land with storybook narration and a sweet love story. It's weird, really weird. But SO well done, and so fun to watch. Unfortunately, ratings are in the pooper. This is not a huge surprise. Is it too weird? Not mass-marketable? What about a show like Chuck? Here's another semi-weird, but much more consumer friendly new show. It has drama, action, comedy, fun characters, attractive actors. The full recipe really. Rating also not so hot. Thankfully, NBC is determined to make this one succeed and has already ordered a full season (that almost never happens before fall sweeps).

Another example is Eli Stone, which premiered last week. Here's a show that combines the cosmic influence of a higher power with overtly issue-oriented and politically-motivated topics. The premiere actually featured villainous mortgage lenders. But it has music numbers! I think it can be best described as Ally McBeal meets Quantum Leap. Again, ratings are slim to start, but ABC has already ordered four more scripts. A good sign.

I should add that a few old standbys are in danger too. Last week, Grey's Anatomy slipped to almost 5 million fewer viewers than CSI in the 18-32 age group. The show is boasting the lowest ratings in history. Then you have a show like House - what I consider an almost perfect combination of the procedural and plot-driven drama - which is actually the highest rated scripted television show.

I'm rambling, but what I basically want to find out is what balance of audience interest and network support will save shows this year? November sweeps are around the corner - a period of intense rating measuring where networks make huge splashes to boost ratings for the advertisers and subsequently, big decisions about the fate of their lineup. We'll see where the dust settles.

October 17, 2008

tgif top 10

The weekend is here, which means it's time to blow money on my favorite pastime - eating (and drinking) out. So, here are the top ten eating and/or drinking establishments prominently featured in television shows.

Top 10 Food/Drink Spots:
  1. Central Perk (Friends)

  2. The Max (Saved by the Bell)

  3. Cheers (Cheers)...seems to be making a lot of these

  4. Luke's (Gilmore Girls)

  5. Arnold's (Happy Days)

  6. Salinger's (Party of Five)

  7. Glenbrook Grill (Life Goes On)... you know you watched it

  8. Joe's (Grey's Anatomy)

  9. Peach Pit (Beverly Hills 90210)

  10. Tom's Restaurant (Seinfeld)