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)

October 16, 2008

amy sedaris

I'm finally back and most excited to find this news when I returned. One of my very favorites, Amy Sedaris, is developing her own sitcom for FOX. She's one of the funniest women alive. No details yet, just that she came up with the idea for the show 6 years ago, and her best friend Paul Dinello will be directing (you've seen him around - Colbert Report and such). Although FOX has improved it's programming considerably in the past 5 years, it has still failed to succeed in the non-animated comedy department. Fingers crossed for this one, but I'm guessing we won't see it until Fall 2009.