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If I could do last season all over again…

November 14, 2007 Leave a comment

… I’d have watched the show from beginning to end.

Knee-jerk reactions… In some cases, they can be a sign of excellent reflexes. In others, they can be a sign of immense ignorance.

Last season I wasn’t sure what I was going to watch, but I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be tuning in for one particular series: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. In fact, I made the decision early on. It was debuting to much buzz and fanfare over at NBC, and at times it stole the spotlight from Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, which also premiered last season. I was irritated because I felt that Fey’s Rock had come first and that Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire drama, starring a very talented ensemble cast (Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson and Steven Weber) was a gorgeously dressed knock-off of an original series that was developed and nurtured by people who actually worked in the business of sketch comedy. I was mildly bitter on Fey’s behalf, having been a fan of her work for a few years. In my eyes, 30 Rock was the underdog, and Studio 60 was the brawny big brother who easily got all the attention from the social elite.

It’s been suggested that Studio 60’s talented cast may have eventually cost the series when it came to its inflated production budget and waning ratings. Photo © Warner Bros. Television

And, to be honest, I wasn’t too far off. Compared to 30 Rock’s motley crew (no matter how deliberately crafted), Studio 60 had a beautiful cast. They were the guys getting most of the buzz, both from NBC and the critics. They also had Sorkin, who had just come away from his long-running, acclaimed hit The West Wing. They had the dynamic duo Matthew Perry, of Friends fame, and Bradley Whitford, also from the aforementioned Sorkin drama. Like Rock, they had snappy banter and long-winded monologues that seem almost too complex to have been concocted on the spot. Unlike Rock’s single-camera style, Studio 60 had complicated blocking in scenes and sometimes ethereal (perhaps sunset?) lighting that created a distinct West Coast tone.

On the surface, they seemed a bit too perfect. And I wasn’t impressed.

Unfortunately, neither were American viewers. The show was cancelled after being dragged out throughout the entire season in intermittent spurts — something that isn’t bad, when I think about it. I’ll elaborate on that later.

Fast-forward a year. I recently acquiesced, and finally purchased an iPod. This last weekend, on a whim, I bought the pilot episode of Studio 60, along with two others — just for kicks. I’d cooled off from my annoyance a year ago, and I was ready to give the intelligent drama a go.

To be frank, after seeing the first two episodes “Pilot” and “Cold Open,” I was blown away. Intelligent doesn’t even begin to describe it. I began to question my own sanity. Certainly a year ago maturity made a difference, but how could I have been so blind? Yes, Tina Fey’s half-hour comedy is brilliant and hilarious, but couldn’t I have found room in my viewing schedule for both? I mean, for crying out loud, they aired on different nights after all.

When Judd Hirsch, whom I’ve admired since his role as Alex on the 1980’s sitcom Taxi, performed that intensely volatile opening monologue in the pilot episode, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him for fear of missing a beat. Like many others, I’m sure, I rewound the scene so as to get the full effect. I found myself doing that a lot actually… All the characters were quite compelling.

Bradley Whitford (left) worked with Aaron Sorkin for seven years on the Emmy Award-winning series The West Wing, while Matthew Perry is best known for his decade of work as the sarcastic Chandler Bing on NBC’s other Emmy Award-winning hit, Friends. Photo © Warner Bros. Television

Peet’s Jordan McDeere was as endearing as she was steadfast. As the president of the fictitious National Broadcasting System’s programming, she took no prisoners, but did so justly. There are few female leaders on TV like Jordan, who can be firm without being portrayed as an ice queen.

Perry’s Matt Albie was lovably neurotic and testy. With his self-deprecating humor, it would’ve been easy for the former Friends star to fall back into some well-rooted Chandler-isms, but Matt was a completely separate entity who probably would’ve gotten Perry an Emmy nod had the show been given another chance.

The same goes for Whitford’s honest-to-a-fault Danny Tripp, who is outed within the first episode for his recent drug abuse. Whitford’s solid portrayal of Perry’s other half was great. I believe he too could’ve been up for an Emmy had the series gone to a second season.

I was interested in Paulson’s portrayal of right-wing, Christian comedienne Harriett Hayes. This character may have been an artistic extension of Sorkin’s beliefs regarding the radical Christian right, but I like the fact that he made her an obvious protagonist. Alongside Paulson, Sorkin made Harriet a flawed, yet intriguing, character.

I could go on, but the show had a large ensemble cast outside of these four main players. Needless to say, the show was incredibly strong. I have no good excuse for not enjoying the series while it lasted. However, I think it does say something about the bar and level of expectations Sorkin and his cast and crew held, and how those expectations differed from America’s own threshold. This series was the epitome of quality programming. And while I’m sure it hit some rough spots, perhaps was a bit too serious, and lacked action, from what I’ve seen, it was an amazing show with superb characters. In short, it had a lot of potential. Here’s TV Guide’s Matt Roush feelings on the series finale, in response to a reader’s question.

Sorkin was accused of being too liberal. Unfortunately, it’s probably monologues like the one Hirsch delivered that drove away many viewers. Even well-educated viewers who make sixfigures a year (the demographic some networks seem to brag about to their advertisers as a last resort or alternative to the preferred  demos) might’ve been turned off by what some may have considered to be a liberal sermon of morality. I’m not one of those people, but I can understand why Sorkin had to tone the preaching down a bit.

For what the series lacked in the Laugh Out Loud department, it brought a lot of other positive attributes to the fore. For one thing, I think I learned more about network politics and shenanigans in the two episodes than I have in four years of college. Studio 60 contained humor that made you think — really think — about the underlying message.

In an attempt to rectify my egregious mistake last year, I will probably be buying Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on DVD as soon as possible. As I mentioned earlier, the series aired in random trickles throughout the season, which gave the show an opportunity to have roughly 22 episodes. There are those who still rave about the series, and others who remain skeptical. I’m willing to give it a shot now, if only to prove that I’m able to admit when I’m wrong. For all of the series’ shortcomings, it truly was intelligent entertainment at its finest.

Unfortunately, this means I have to turn over a new leaf and catch up on shows that I’ve deliberately neglected this season. Cavemen, anyone?

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Strikes, Viewership and ‘Women’s Murder Club’

October 15, 2007 Leave a comment

Strike on the Horizon

I’ve been trying to keep an eye on the recent Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) issues that have been a brewing in Hollywood of late. Apparently the issue stems from Guild members requesting more money for content that makes it to the Web. According to Broadcast Newsroom, there has been heavy debating on either side, but there is a silver lining for some shows: With the networks ordering so many scripts in advance (so as to compensate for a potential strike that will otherwise leave them with gaping holes in their programming), it’s giving “struggling” series a second chance at survival. The popular online trade magazine cited CBS’ Cane, FOX’s K-Ville and ABC’s Big Shots as examples of such stragglers.

This all seems to be yet another indication of the ever-changing distribution model that studios and networks have both been fighting and trying to keep up with for the past couple of years. There is, as always, an issue of copyright, and how the original authors of a product can be properly compensated. Unfortunately, thanks to torrents and a host of other video- and media-sharing websites, it’s very difficult to track every single download. While it’s unfortunate for the creators of each work, it’s also rather unavoidable. Worldwide, fans are determined and resourceful when it comes to finding what they want on the Internet.

Is TV Viewership Rising, Falling, Or at a Plateau?

I’ve been wondering lately how viewership has been faring, but it’s become a bit hard to compare this season’s performance with last season’s because of the recent DVR debacle. Networks are wanting ratings credit for viewers who watch their series through DVR and TiVo usage, and Nielsen is admittedly trying to keep up with the changes.

The digital age has caused a revolution for which networks, advertisers and Nielsen’s were not quite prepared, but they are trying. Still, I’m a bit surprised that there are no new series that have gotten the official axe yet. Granted, it’s still early, but usually there’s a stinker or two that’s canned after the first week. I’ve yet to find one. And I know that doesn’t mean that quality in programming has increased, because ABC’s Cavemen is still around. Its concept (and the fact that ABC, of all networks, actually greenlit it) still boggles my mind.

So, we have struggling shows that aren’t doing so hot this season. We have no breakout hits, despite the many, many, heavily-pimped new series, such as Private Practice, Bionic Woman, Journeyman, Cane, Pushing Daisies, Life, Moonlight and Back to You. However, we also have networks preemptively requesting more scripts so they can have something to produce and broadcast over the next three or four months in the event of a strike. With all of these technological and political changes, it’s going to be an interesting season. Some series may be cancelled a little later than usual, while others may be given a final chance to add that extra umph! they’ve needed to truly shine. Only time will tell how each network’s programming fares.

Women’s Murder Club


Picture by tvguide.com/ABC — From left to right: Paula Newsome, Laura Harris, Aubrey Dollar and Angie Harmon

I caught the series premiere of ABC’s newest drama based on the literary work of acclaimed bestseller, James Patterson. The series, starring crime drama veteran Angie Harmon, follows the lives and careers of four diverse San Francisco women as they work together to solve murders.

At first, I’m sure some people scoffed at the idea. Though Patterson (who also serves as Executive Producer of the TV series) has had incredible success with the book series, I’d imagine there may have been some trepidation with having an all-woman team solve crime. For one thing, it breaks tradition. Over the past 20 years, law enforcement shows have typically comprised of a male-female duo, with the male lead character mostly taking precendence.

While I am personally intrigued by the concept, I would not be surprised if some wondered whether the audience would buy, or be interested in, four women taking on the bad guys every week.

Fast National Ratings, as reported by zap2it.com, suggest that Women’s Murder Club had a strong reception with audiences. Though premieres are not always indcative of a series’ overall success, Friday is a tough night, specifically with CBS’ killer lineup. If the series can measure up to the competition on a regular basis, and build upon what I’m sure is an increasing online fanbase (most likely comprised of women), I think the series has the opportunity to be a success.

It’s unconventional, not just in theme and characters, but also in directing and writing. The story takes place in beautiful San Francisco, shying away from the obvious and overdone choice — gritty New York City.

While Harmon’s Lindsay Boxer has a backstory that may bring in a bit too much soap to the story (the character’s ex-husband is assigned as Boxer’s boss in the pilot), the combination of hard-nosed professionals with passion and a trusting friendship will ultimately drive the series. I’m looking forward to more episodes, and seeing how each of these characters will contribute to future storylines.  

School’s In Session, Fall TV’s Coming… Go TiVo, Go!

September 13, 2007 2 comments

During my freshman year at Arizona State University, I used to scoff at the two girls down the hall from my dorm who religiously used their brand new TiVo to record such oh-so-stimulating shows like “The O.C.” and “American Idol”. At the time, I didn’t understand how anyone could possibly be so addicted to television – or even their favorite shows – that they’d need to record something 24/7.

Three years later, I’ve definitely seen the error of my ways. While there are only a choice few series on television that make the cut on my Season Pass list, I have to admit that the opportunity to record anything at any time of the day has its advantages. Between early morning repeats of the old military/legal show JAG and late-night showings of Conan O’Brien, my TiVo gets the occassional workout. And with the Fall 2007 semester now in full swing, escapist entertainment is more necessary than ever.

Unlike three years ago, I now realize that TiVo is not just for the typical couch potato. In fact, TiVo allows you to NOT watch television all the time, as you can essentially pick and choose what shows you like, disregarding the rest, and watching them all (either in their entirety or not) whenever you can. In essence, you can be intelligent about what you watch, without suffering through the various, mindless forms of entertainment on the tube. It’s a lovely tool that I’m glad I finally embraced.

The past two weeks have given everyone a chance to catch up on old favorites or shows that we happened upon by accident over the summer. Starting next week, networks all across the board, from CBS to SciFi to MTV will try to get our attention – and keep it for the remainder of the season.

Now, I know that there’s no accounting for taste, so hopefully I’ll be able to get the opinions of some random Sun Devils around campus. Let’s see how “smart” the general consensus is when it comes to regular viewing habits.

Categories: TiVo, TV