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 Is it possible that daytime soaps have finally become outdated?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 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,

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,

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.
: Why?
: Cuz now he's gonna think I'm flaky.
: Maybe but he's not gonna care.
: 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.