Thursday, February 09, 2006

So They Gave Me A Television Network

For those of you that don’t follow the entertainment industry closely, while I was on my random hiatus, UPN and the WB got together and decided they needed to inspire me back into blogging. What did they throw my way as payment? Why, my own television network, The CW Television Network, as Wikipedia says “or more casually The CW”. Obviously, I was thrilled by this, as I now had fourteen primetime hours a week to fill with television programming of my choice. Where was I too start?

What, you didn’t believe me? And no, the “C” doesn’t stand for CBS, UPN’s big brother, and the “W” doesn’t stand for Warner Bros. Chris Wilson.

Well, since Arrested Development swansongs this Friday night with their last four, completely unadvertised episodes of the season, I immediately wanted to pick it up, along with the jerked-around Scrubs, to form an hour of comedy masterfulness. (Spell check didn’t just nix “masterfulness” as a word. Either I added it to the dictionary sometime, or my computer is just getting used to me.) Sadly, the suits say AD costs too much and that ABC and Showtime are already in on the bidding. To figure out what exactly I’m going to need to get a successful network, let’s look at what’s working and what isn’t working on television right now.

Grey’s Anatomy

Grey’s has becoming the new “it” show on television, and other than the lost Lost fanatics, there probably isn’t anything close when it comes to crazed fans. After the Super Cliff Hanger, the hoards of fans couldn’t handle it, with the apparent lesson being that Grey’s fans do not watch 24, or they’d be better prepared for such things. Why’s Grey’s so popular? For one, it’s writing is sharp, and has entered into battle with How I Met Your Mother for The Show Which Accurately Portrays How People Talk. But I think the key to Grey’s is that it combines the coming-of-age, what-the-hell-am-I-doing thread a near guaranteed base to have poignant and potentially tear-jerking drama:

The hospital.

While shows like The OC and Desperate Housewives become entirely unrealistic if they start knocking people off at too fast of a clip, nobody can say a word when somebody dies in a hospital. ER had monkeys infecting people with AIDS, and nobody batted an eye until “Let’s crash helicopters into people” became a repetitive theme. Chicago Hope was beloved until the day it was cancelled. Between cop shows and hospital shows, you can get a great amount of the popular television shows because they have the constant spectre of death acting as a stressor on the characters. In both types of shows, you don’t even have to show the deaths, but like Greek tragedies, simply showing the emotion of those affected by the death does the trick.

From House, Scrubs, Crossing Jordan, St. Elsewhere and Dr. Quinn to NYPD Blue, Homicide, CSI and Law and Order, you’re basically fishing with dynamite when you unload one onto the primetime schedule with any sort of promotion and quality. You have to be unlucky or just plain bad to fail in the formula, much like Boomtown and Providence.

Grey’s is successful because it’s writers are open and seemingly in-tune with the world – what other creative staff has their own blog? – and they care about their characters, or at least have convinced everybody else they need to do so.

So in order for my new network to be successful, I’m going to need a medical show with some young, hip people. Or, better yet, a crime show with some young hip people who deal with crimes in a hospital. I can call it CSI: Criminal Intent, then have Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer both sign off on it. By the time the various franchises get their cut, we won’t be turning a profit, but hey, we just need people to make my network seriously at first.

How I Met Your Mother/My Name Is Earl/The Office

Now we’re talking. After AD sails away tomorrow night, the slot of Best Comedy on Television is left wide open. The three names bolded and italicized above are your best bets.

HIMYM is not a perfect sitcom, and in a move a lot of us around here snobbily despise, has a laugh track, but my does it grow on you. As stated here before, the basis concept is that your narrator, Bob Saget, is explaining to his two children how he met their mother twenty years previously. The main character, Ted, is a little boring, but he means well and doesn’t come across as too wholesome.

The rest of the cast? Absolutely fantastic. Neil Patrick Harris maybe has the best lines on television as Barney, the sleazy, club-hopping best friend of Ted. Ted’s other best friend and roommate is Marshal, whose into the ninth year of his relationship with his fiancé, Lily, played by the always delightful Alyson Hannigan. Rounding out the group is Robin, who was Ted’s crush in the first episode, but then eventually revealed to be “Aunt Robin”. Robin’s shining moment this season was Monday night’s episode, because as Ted was getting romantic with his new flame, she replaced him as Barney’s “Bro” for the evening. Cigar bars, laser tag, pick-up tag teams and Battleship, or as some might call it, the perfect night.

Now granted, much like shows like Lost and Prison Break (Oh, Wentworth, how I miss you) get pigeon-holed, HIMYM could fall into the same trap if they don’t reveal the mother/reveal her too soon, but so far, it’s playing out well. The dialogue is great, the story-lines are generally entertaining and Barney is the absolute man. Probably the best sitcom on television.

It’s closest rival? Our other love affair, My Name Is Earl. While it wouldn’t seem it on the surface, Earl is actually one of the sappier shows on television. Earl’s relationship with his brother, Randy, is as heartfelt as it is entertaining. Crab Man is second only to Barney as “The Guy With The Best Lines/Comic Timing on Television” and I need not say a word about Nadine Velazquez, but need only post this picture:

Earl has a limited gimmick on his show- the list- but since the list is over two hundred items long and has an item added every so many episodes, there’s little chance they’re going to run out of things for Earl J. Hickey to correct. Lately, Earl has been rocking a fantastic soundtrack, although my personal highlight remains Randy putting on a fake mustache while the Smokey and the Bandit theme plays. Sadly, while HIMYM gets to rock out on lonely Monday nights, Earl is battling for space on the loaded Thursdays, but holding it’s own so far with tag-team partner The Office.

Like everyone who was engrossed by the genius of David Brent on the British series, I was skeptical of the American version, but there should be an eleventh commandment that reads “Thou Shalt Not Doubt Steve Carrell”. From “Produce Pete” on The Daily Show, to bit parts in Anchorman and Bruce Almighty to actually getting some Academy Award buzz for 40-Year Old Virgin, Carrell is as close to money as it comes. I’ve watched the two episodes Barcus had me Tivo, and it’s just as good as the British version. If you’re unfamiliar with the original Office, a documentary crew is filming the daily goings-on of a random workplace, with Steve Carrell in charge of those everyday events. At times, it’s as painfully awkward to watch as the original, and that’s a very good thing.

So for my sitcoms, I guess I’m going to try to avoid using a laugh track, but if done correctly – like on Mother - it’s not too big of a detriment. When you see a commercial for potential sitcoms, you can tell the good (Earl) from the bad (Stacked) almost immediately, so screening pilots shouldn’t be too hard. We’ll build around AD, Everybody Hates Chris and Scrubs, maybe turning Wednesday into a fun-loving comedy block.

Dancing With The Stars

This combines everything you need for a successful reality show. Beautiful women? (Check times, like, a thousand.) Tom Bergeron? (Check.) A results show? (Check.) A vile heel everyone can hate? (Carrie Ann Inaba – Check.) My favorite part about Dancing, other than George Hamilton’s schtick, Drew Lachey and Stacy Keibler, is the fact everyone’s all “Oh man, where did Keibler come from?! She’s so hot!” while all of us who watched wrestling back in the hey-day can sit back and reflect on how great our knowledge is. If you’re not watching Dancing because you doubt your masculinity or something, don’t worry about that, as there’s no shortage of potential wardrobe malfunctions to keep you interested. Plus, it’s all done as classy as a show that’s hosted by Bergeron and has Drew Lachey in the audience can be. Is the one hour results show overly bloated? Of course, but what results shows aren’t?

How can we incorporate this onto my network? Let’s wait until we touch on the next two…

The Amazing Race/Real World: Key West

Premiering two weeks Tuesday – Valentines Day, lovers! – they’re moving TAR to 10:00, putting it in direct competition with the new Real World, which premieres on the same night. Is this a problem for me? No, we have Tivo, and even when I’m at home it’s perfectly acceptable to skip an episode of MTV programming when you know you’ll have a dozen opportunities to see it before the new episode airs. Between the two shows, there should be enough whining and hurricanes to keep me interested well into the summer.

If for some reason you don’t watch TAR, you’re missing out on one of the better, if not the best, reality shows. There are no judges and no phone-in votes, as it’s more game show than reality show. The last team to arrive at each pre-determined pit stop is eliminated, and that’s that. You pick your favorites, you take-in the scenery, you enjoy the Phil and you watch. It’s that simple.

If for some reason you don’t watch Real World, good for you. After last season’s Real World: Danny’s Broken Face, I can’t really blame you. Philadelphia and Paris were absolute disasters, and Austin, at least until the reunion show, wasn’t much better. You can join me in longing for the days of San Diego and Hawaii, but they’re probably not coming back. You can bet that as soon as they grab Ruthie and some other homeless MTV alums to do the preview show, you’ll be getting a better look at this, as right now we’re all in the dark.

Hold on, one more reality show to touch on, and no, not American Idol

Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet 2

The main problem with this season has been the challenges themselves, which don’t seem like they’ve been tested by anybody before they put them on the show. The bull-riding one last week was retarded, the rope-walking one the week before was near-impossible (only Alton, the greatest athlete on the face of God’s green earth, could do it) and three weeks ago there was a event where the veteran’s large fake boulder just fell apart, and they had to carry the parts to the finish line. As TVGasm eagerly points out, it seems like people fight just to randomly fight, but this season is slightly starting to redeem itself as the Veteran team plummets downhill, with Derrick and Beth taking on all comers in the gauntlet. The previews for this coming week make it look like we may be seeing a Rookie loss and Kina vs. Cara for the captainship, which we can only hope is some sort of wet t-shirt contest.

So what would my network need in the way of a reality show? Nothing cheesy, like Skating With Celebrities, and something that’s not as expensive as Survivor or Amazing Race. The first Apprentice was brilliance, so if we can catch lightning in the bottle with another known celebrity, it might just involve getting lucky. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Greed were both successful before they ran them into the ground, so maybe we need a one-a-night, big-ticket game show. I’ve always enjoyed Let’s Make A Deal, and with a charismatic host – Tom Cavanaugh or John Stamos? – things could be fun.

(Incase you were unawares, both Love Monkey and Jake In Progress have been, uh, removed from schedules. The former Ed and Uncle Jesse will probably have some free time on their hands.)

The Daily Show/The Colbert Report

When they announced the idea for The Colbert Report, I was deliriously excited, calling Livey immediately, and then worried. Could Colbert carry a show on his own? Was there enough fake news to go around? Would an hour be too much of Daily Show-style mocking? The answers were a resounding yes, yes and no.

Colbert’s been perfect, with “The Word” the highlight of any night. While Stewart is humble in his dealings with interviewees, Colbert plays it up, embodying the Bill O’ Reilly’s of the world that he’s mocking. His addressing of the news is less direct than The Daily Show, so you’re not really seeing double coverage of anything, which keeps things fresh. Honestly, Colbert spends a lot of time pointing where his words (Truthiness) and name keep showing up in the real news, and that’s perfectly fine. Colbert’s been going at it since October now, and the act isn’t even starting to wear thin, while The Daily Show retains its spot as the best news program on television.

Can The CW possibly get a show like this? Highly doubtul, and unless we can resuscitate Mo Rocca’s career, there’d be no one worthy enough to host it. No, we at the CW will leave the fake news business to the pros, as they’ve certainly mastered it.

Only one show really left to talk about, as it is OC Thursday…

The OC

Oh, OC, how the campus used to buss for you. It even did at the beginning of this year – how could anyone miss The OC?! But no, now you’re a shell of yourself. Centering on Johnny and Marissa, who nobody cares about, put you into a death spiral that only the attempted jailbait of a 14 year-old girl could pull you out of. How does a show lose its spark so suddenly? Retread storylines and the focus on characters we never cared about. Seth smoking pot is being handled like an after-school special, and I’m ready to wash my hands of the whole thing unless they can carry on the momentum once Kaitlyn goes back to school (if she leaves).

Killing Johnny, and yes folks, he’s dead, will help things, other than the fact we’ll have to deal with Marissa freaking out about how nobody is sad he’s dead. Granted, that’s neglecting the fact nobody liked him, or really knew him, except for her, but whatever, let the crazy girl talk, or she might break a laptop or some pool furniture. I’ll hold my comments back on The OC until after tonight’s episode, but there’s nothing even The CW network could do to breathe that “it” back into a franchise that’s lost it.

Of course, if we could steal the Cohen family – “Watch Ryan, Seth, Summer and Marissa all go to college on The CW!” – over to our network, the move, coupled with some guest appearances and a guaranteed impaling of Mischa Barton every episode might inspire ratings to shoot right back up. In fact, we’ll pair it with Veronica Mars which is what a high school drama set in California should play out like.

Even moreso than The OC, Veronica deserves her own post sometime. So be sure and check out AD on Friday night, and as always

Happy Weekending.

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