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.  

Creating the Character

October 3, 2007 5 comments

When it comes to character development, television and film writers take various avenues in order to make lead characters compelling, easy to relate to, interesting and strong. While all roads may lead to a different destination, there are some similar paths that have been taken over the years.

One particular aspect of character development was brought to my attention a few years ago in an introductory film class. The professor claimed that women characters tend to have “Daddy Issues.” At first, in my immaturity, I balked at the idea. It didn’t make sense, I thought. How could all – or even most – female characters in television and film have these so-called “Daddy Issues?”

Then, when I got to thinking about it, truly analyzing the female characters over the past twenty years, it made perfect sense. For the most part, characters are greatly defined by their relationship (or lack thereof) with their parents. This is most obviously noted in women, but there are cases where men are defined by their parents as well. I’ll get to that later.

Women With ‘Daddy Issues’

As it stands, the vast majority of lead female characters who succeed in male-dominated fields, such as law enforcement, the military, and even the medical field, are initially defined by the relationships with their fathers.

 

Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson) of The X-Files joined the FBI in an attempt to prove to her father that she could make independent life choices that resulted in success. Her desire to prove herself to her father is what drove her in her career, and ultimately what created a wedge between them.

Sarah “Mac” MacKenzie (Catherine Bell) of JAG followed in her father’s footsteps, both by joining the Marine Corps. and by becoming an alcoholic at a young age. Abandoned by her mother when she was small, she was left to endure her father’s emotional and psychological abuse. Like many of the other female characters listed, she was developed as a no-nonsense military attorney who never suffered fools. Still, again like many of the other female characters here, she was known as compassionate, ethical and strong. 

 

Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis joined the military to follow in her father’s footsteps after an emotionally detached childhood that resulted from her mother’s death when she was a young teenager. Her successful career in the male-dominated Air Force was solely independent of her father’s, but the desire to prove herself to her workaholic dad was one explanation for her driven nature and independence.

 

Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit was introduced as a child of rape, so she never knew her father. Nevertheless, the driving force behind her character is the fact that she does not want to be anything like her father. For nearly a decade she has run away from biology, focused on helping people, and has questioned her capacity for violence.

 

Catherine Willows (played by Marg Helgenberger) of CSI lived a life of chaos in Las Vegas before turning to a career in forensics. Her enstrangement from her wealthy father led to stripping, poverty and a lack of self-worth. For approximately seven years, she has thrived independently in a fulfilling career, but the affects of her father’s poor treatment live on, and continue to be touched upon as further explanations of her emotional detachment.

 

Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris) of Cold Case lived a rough life of poverty and abuse. Her mother was a drug addict and her father was rarely – if ever – in the picture. As one of few female characters on television today who are truly the lead character in a procedural drama, Morris’ Lilly is a strong, compassionate and independent woman whose hardships in life (as well as the lack of a strong male role model as a child) compel her to protect the lives of others.

Some Men Have ‘Daddy Issues,’ Too

As I said earlier, there are also some male characters who have been defined by their intense paternal conflicts. Some of them even belong to the series that were already listed.

Most notably, Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) of The X-Files had serious issues with his father, blaming him for the abduction of his sister, the subversion of the truth, putting his family in danger, and lying to him on a regular basis. Still, as has been the case with many female characters, there was an underlying layer of trust, a desire to please and protect his father at all costs.

Harmon Rabb, Jr. (David James Elliott) of JAG grew up never knowing his father. He was haunted by his father’s disappearance during the Vietnam War, and desperately went to great lengths to find the truth as an adult. As with Mulder, there was never true closure with his father, and it continued to define his character throughout. 

Women Seem To Lead, However

Essentially, from a traditional character development method over the past 20 years, when a lead female character is not being defined by her relationship with the male lead (i.e. Scully to Fox Mulder, Benson to Eliott Stabler, Carter to Jack O’Neill, or Willows to Gil Grissom), she is being defined by her relationship with her father.

While that trend isn’t as prevalent as it once was, it is an interesting aspect of television and film history to note, as I believe it is quite indicative of society’s expectations. Is it possible that, as a society, the audience expects there to be a very good reason to explain why a female is able to thrive in a man’s world, why she’s able to succeed and kick butt just as well as her male partner?

Perhaps it is on a subconscious level that audience members demanded such reasoning, or maybe it was equally subconscious on the part of the writers who needed to properly develop a character. Anything’s possible.

Personally, I can take the cliche problems lead female “X” supposedly had with her dad, if it means we’re still getting a capable, competent female character in the process.    

Did You Survive Premiere Week?

October 2, 2007 1 comment

This blog post comes in a bit late due to the fact that I had a hard time picking which premieres were worth my time. Even with the help of my trusty TiVo and a relatively mild weekend, I had to be pretty choosy. In the end, I came up with some old faves and some solid newbies.

Cold Case

On Sunday, September 23, Cold Case premiered on CBS. I thought it was a bit unusual, considering most shows premiere on the Sunday that follows premiere week. (Though The Simpsons premiered that evening as well.) I’m not sure why that is, but Monday usually leads the week off.

At any rate, Lily looks as though she’s going to take a bit of a dark turn this season after narrowly dodging death in last season’s finale. We knew there was little risk of her being offed considering she’s the lead character, but it still created some pretty good tension. It’ll be interesting to see where they take the character from here.

Heroes

Heroes premiered Monday on NBC. I honestly meant to catch up on this series during the summer, but I didn’t, so I was completely lost. According to a couple of the people I asked around campus, Heroes was a big deal. I’m considering getting Season One on DVD, but I’ll have to think about it. All in all, I’m just impressed that a sci-fi show was able to thrive in mainstream television. Perhaps there’s hope for the genre yet.

Journeyman

Speaking of hope for the sci-fi genre, NBC took another crack at an intense time-traveling thriller with Journeyman last week. It was a no-brainer to pair this freshman series with Heroes. Still, just as many critics warned, the series was a bit hard to follow at first. It could be a bit stronger, but I really like the style of cinematography and pacing. It’s possible that the series merely needs to find its footing, and it still seems to be performing. We’ll see how it works out.

Law and Order: SVU

Ah, procedural dramas. NBC’s most popular L&O series premiered on Tuesday. I really, really think they’ve jumped the shark with Elliott and his ex-wife preparing to raise another kid. I’m sure it had something to do with causing some tension between Elliott and Olivia, or maybe it was attempt to further distance the characters from any potential romance.

Either way, though I liked that they focused on his family in the beginning of the series’ existence, his wife and kids have become a nuisance over the years. The premiere was decent, with Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City fame playing a mother with a multiple personality disorder. It didn’t quite compare to the premieres of seasons’ past, but it was entertaining.

Bionic Woman

The highly touted, uber-advertised, Bionic Woman premiered Wednesday on NBC to much fanfare. The lead actress who plays the title role, Michelle Ryan, is a relative unknown, and there were some scenes that had a bit of a shaky delivery. Still, there’s an intensity and an honesty that comes across in character Jamie Sommers.

The show definitely has potential. I’m a sucker for great special effects and action, but it also had an interesting storyline as well. It helps that they’re also tackling a philosophical issue that’s very timely in this technological age. How far is too far when it comes to bioengineering? It’s a good question that’s bound to come up more and more as the season continues.

With less cheesy one-liners in the heat of action, and more development of Jamie, her sister and her boyfriend, I think the series has a shot at becoming another Heroes.

Private Practice

Premiering opposite Bionic Woman, Private Practice debuted on ABC Wednesday, with both series starting off pretty well. What Practice lacked in action against Bionic, it made up for in strong characters.

It’s hard to say if lightning will strike twice for Shonda Rhimes, creator of both Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. I do have to say, however, that the new sister series definitely leads in the Talented and Accomplished Actors department (though the young actors on the former series are very talented as well). With the likes of Amy Brenneman and Taye Diggs, I see a lot of potential for Kate Walsh’s (Addison on Grey’s) new series. I’m glad she was able to spread her wings on a show that will showcase her talents. There’s something about her quirky character that’s way more endearing than Meredith, in my opinion.

Critics like TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello also warned of a weak start for the series, which I can agree with to some extent. There were moments that seemed a bit absurd — but, hey, Grey’s has gotten away with a lot more with less logic, so I’m willing to give this show a shot.

ER

The show that just keeps getting rescusitated premiered with its 14th season (that’s right!) Thursday on NBC. It was weaker than most, and seemed a bit dead in some areas, but the main characters of this season are still compelling.

There are probably a lot of people who can’t believe this show is still on the air, and I have to admit I’m pretty surprised myself. It’s a show that won’t die, but as long as the chemistry between the cast remains (John Stamos, notwithstanding), I’ll try to catch it every now and again. It probably won’t be as religious as before, but I won’t write it off until it’s cancelled.

Stargate Atlantis

Finally, I’m allowed to let the geek in me roam free for a bit as I talk about Stargate Atlantis, which premiered Friday on the SCIFI Channel. It was a fairly decent season opener, with the introduction of two new cast members, Amanda Tapping (Colonel Samantha Carter) from the recently cancelled Stargate SG-1, and Jewel Staite (Dr. Jennifer Keller) from Firefly, which was cancelled a few years ago and concluded with the movie, Serenity.

It probably could’ve been a bit stronger, considering its future is not quite secure. For the most part, though, the scope of the premiere was pretty good, and will hopefully lead into other new storylines for the fourth season. The cast changes caused heated debates among fans, and there are some who are skeptical as to whether or not Stargate Atlantis will see a fifth season pick-up from Stargate. Still, with ailing original series in its lineup, SCIFI may be more amenable than expected.

It’s a wait-and-see game for producers and viewers alike, as only time will tell if the series can perform on its own without the ten-year-old Stargate SG-1 as a lead-in. Here’s hoping, because I’m a huge, geeky fan of that show, and I’d like it to succeed.

That’s about it. I’ll be following Bionic Woman, Private Practice and Atlantis closely, while catching Cold Case, Journeyman, SVU and ER when I can. There are loads of other series out there to try, like the CW’s Aliens in America and Reaper, as well as ABC’s Samantha Who? and Pushing Daisies. Those seem to be critically acclaimed winners… and those types of shows tend to lack the kind of viewership that will keep them around for the long haul. I should probably check them out soon before they get the ax.

So, did I miss anything? Are there shows I’ve overlooked?

Generous Emmys and Laughable Censorship

September 17, 2007 4 comments

Last night on Fox the 59th Annual Primetime Emmys aired with glitz, glamour and some random expletives. As it was hosted by Ryan Seacrest, I can only assume Fox and the Academy were hoping to get a younger crowd in on the Emmy fun last night.

I’m not so sure it worked, but the awards weren’t nearly as bad as they have been in the past. The music – while obvious – was a very nice way to remind the winners that there was a schedule (and ad dollars to keep).  Some went a bit overboard but, for the most part, everyone stayed within the limit.

Just as the Oscar’s apparently adopted the practice a couple of years ago, Emmy Awards were given to nearly every series that was represented last night. Neither The Sopranos nor Ugly Betty swept the awards like perhaps some people thought, which in a way is nice. The love was certainly spread pretty evenly. I don’t know about anyone else, but I felt like the miniseries or movie categories really dominated the evening.

There were some funny moments, like Rainn Wilson and Kanye West battling it out over one of Kanye’s songs with the host of Don’t Forget The Lyrics, Wayne Brady. Some not-so-funny moments, like Seacrest suggesting that his American Idol co-star smokes weed. And then there were just some downright embarassing moments, like when Sally Field went a bit bonkers at the end of her speech, and ended up babbling for 30 seconds before letting loose what I can only imagine was a string of swears that Fox’s speedy-fingered directors edited out.

Of the winners, here are my faves:

Jeremy Piven, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series – I love this guy, plain and simple; he’s a comedic genius. 

Katherine Heigl, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series – Though I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy very much, I do know that Heigl, Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson are all very talented, so it was a toss-up. I don’t blame her for mouthing, “sh*t!” when her name was announced over theirs.

Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Musical or Comedy Program – Sir Conan was up against other legendary funny men, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and David Letterman, but he’s my fave… it may be the crazy hair.

Helen Mirren, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie – The way-too-talented British actress was gracious enough to call Americans “generous,” while somewhat alluding to both our positive and negative attributes, but she was forgiven. So she now has two huge awards in one year – an Oscar and an Emmy (that she can add to her other two, apparently). Bloody brilliant. 

America Ferrera, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – She’s officially Hollywood’s Golden Girl now, and she really deserves the attention. She’s handled herself well alongside other veteran actors.

The Sopranos, Outstanding Drama Series – Yeah, I stopped caring four seasons ago, but I do appreciate the series for its creative value. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the best series ever as some would say, but I do think it deserved this final award as a proper send-off. Especially since James Gandolfini was snubbed for James Spader of the aging Boston Legal. I really hopethis is their last season.

30 Rock, Outstanding Comedy Series – I didn’t think they were gonna get anything this year, even with all of the nominations, but Tina Fey’s brain child deserved the kudos. Known as an “on the bubble series” (according to TV Guide) 30 Rock really needs to up its game this season. Hopefully this will give them the boost they needed.

Tonight is the season premiere of Prison Break and the series premiere of K-Ville. I’m curious to see how a series about New Orleans will fare in a country that forgot about Hurricane Katrina after only a few months. If nothing else, it should make for some good drama. We’ll see.

Categories: TV

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