Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday TV Dweebing

Gough talks Superman Returns and Smallville
"Smallville" executive producer Al Gough chewed the fat with Kryptonsite this week, and discussed a few things of interest.

Firstly, how the series and "Superman Returns" will be linked- if at all.

"It's one of the things that, you know, we went down to Sydney in May [Miles and myself], and met with Bryan and Mike and Dan, and we talked about the Fortress [of Solitude], and we both agreed that whatever sort of looks of these bigger things, whether they be the Planet or the Fortress, we should key off the original Donner movie. Which we planned to do anyway. It's not like we were going to put the Fortress in the Jungles of Peru. We had always planned that the end of high school graduation, Clark would be walking across the glacier to the Fortress.EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE…I TOLD YOU THAT WAS THE FORTRESS! (SOMEONE WAS ARGUING WITH ME ABOUT THAT RECENTLY). So we'd always planned to do that anyway", he says.

"The movie has been great. We sort of keep each other abreast of what we're doing, so that there are no egregious mythology clashes".

As for those rumours about former tight-wearer Dean Cain popping up in Kansas this season?

"I will say there is a little truth to the Dean Cain rumors. We have spoken to Dean's people. We have not found a story yet that we want to put him in. I think if you're going to get somebody like Dean, you've got to make sure that the role is right, and that the episode is good. He is definitely someone we want on the show, and as soon as we find the right episode and the right character, we will move on it, and hopefully given his schedule, he'll be able to do it".

HBO renews 'Rome' for second season
HBO has renewed new historical drama "Rome" for a second season, the premium network announced Monday.

Three episodes into its rookie year, "Rome" is already slated to begin production on 12 more episodes in March.

The series is scheduled to return to HBO sometime in 2007.

"Although the first season of 'Rome' is just underway, we're affirming our support for this exciting and ambitious series by preparing for a second season now," said Carolyn Strauss, president of entertainment at HBO. "I'm delighted that critics and subscribers share our enthusiasm for the show."

"Rome" is a co-production between HBO and the BBC. Executive producers are Bruno Heller, William J. Macdonald, John Milius, Anne Thomopoulos and Frank Doelger.

Ratings-wise, "Rome" has looked strong in its first season. The opening episode corralled nearly 3.9 million total viewers, with the second installment settling in at 3 million. Ratings for the third episode will be reported Tuesday.EDITOR’S NOTE: I GUESS I SHOULD WATCH THE EPS I’VE ALREADY TAPED THEN?

Television thinks outside the box
This fall, the small screen will be filled with intricate plots, sprawling storylines, and bizarre mysteries. Can these 'serials' peel viewers from the tidy crime dramas?
Gloria Goodale Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

CRISP SERIALS: Three shows making their debuts this fall are 'Prison Break' (left) and 'Reunion' (center), both on Fox; and ABC's 'Invasion' (right), the story of the mysterious aftermath of a hurricane.

LOS ANGELES - If Hollywood is high school with money, as the old quip goes, then this fall TV season is one whopping schoolyard game of "top this." If you liked that sexy mystery in "Desperate Housewives" and that crazy polar bear in the middle of the "Lost" tropics, get ready for a blizzard of aliens and monsters, romances and intrigues, unmatched in popular media since Rod Serling first put the Twilight Zone up for our national consideration. EDITOR’S NOTE: SIGH….WILL THEY NEVER LEARN?

Now that ABC's two monster hits have dominated TV ratings, writers in every genre of television are reporting that networks have thrown open the doors, even to the craziest ideas. In recent years, television dramas have been narrowly focused on tidy shows about grizzled investigators in lab coats and trench coats who solved each case before the end of the hour.

Procedural shows like "CSI" are as popular as ever. But this fall, serials are making a comeback. Networks are embracing high-concept premises, large ensemble casts, multiple plotlines, parabolic character arcs, and cliffhanger episodes that demand viewer patience from week to week - a kind of storytelling that has been distinctly out of fashion since the era of "Twin Peaks." EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS IS A LITTLE MISLEADING (AS ARE MOST GENERALIZATIONS….LIKE THIS?). EVEN MANY OF THE ‘PROCEDURAL’ SHOWS WITH WEEKLY TIDY ENDINGS, HAVE CHARACTER ARCS AND DEEPENING OF INVOLVEMENT. PEOPLE DON’T TUNE IN JUST FOR THE NUTS-AND-BOLTS, BUT ALSO BECAUSE THEY GROW TO LIKE AND CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. EVEN WITH THE MOST CUT-AND-DRIED OF SHOWS. (IT’S WHY I ENJOY “CSI:MIAMI” MORE THAN THE NY VERSION….THE PEOPLE).

"The procedural or closed-end mode of storytelling has dominated for many years," says producer Shaun Cassidy. But now, he says, it has finally given way to a broader canvas. Cassidy's "Invasion," a new ABC drama about an alien invasion amid a hurricane in Florida, layers hints about body snatching on top of a community's struggle to rebuild and a family's effort to reunite after divorce and devastation.

Writer Paul Scheuring says when he pitched a TV show two years ago about a mild-mannered engineer who gets himself thrown in jail in order to break out his wrongfully convicted brother, network executives said, "Next." Fox later greenlit the show, titled "Prison Break," after "Lost" became a huge hit.

"Prison Break" and "Invasion" are just two of nearly a dozen dramas capitalizing on the new trends, including CBS's "Threshold," ABC's "Night Stalker," WB's "Supernatural," and CBS's "Ghost Whisperer."

To be sure, the procedurals haven't been buried. Veteran crime show producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("CSI," "Without a Trace,") is back with a 10th series, "E-Ring," set in the Pentagon. And audiences as well as networks still warm to programs that start with a dead body and conclude with a body of evidence against the killer. They're easy to dive into for first-time viewers and they do well in reruns.

But the eagerness to own the next hit has everyone from writers on the new shows to producers of ongoing dramas drinking from Hollywood's heady new brew. Even stalwart procedurals are tipping their tales more in the direction of stories that don't wrap into neat body bags each week.

Feature film producer Barry Josephson, who knows a thing or two about big, sprawling stories ("Hide and Seek," "Men in Black"), says he's excited about bringing "Bones," a new crime-solving show about a female forensic pathologist, to Fox, because it will have more characters and bigger mysteries than typical episodic fare. Similarly, ABC's "Boston Legal" will focus more on continuing storylines rather than just the court case of the week. "Storytelling can be much richer when you can count on your constituency being more habitual about watching week in and week out," says creator David E. Kelley. EDITOR'S NOTE: HOW WOULD YOU KNOW MR I-HIT-MY-AUDIENCES-OVER-THE-HEAD-WITH-TWOBYFOURS-KELEY?

But just because intrigue and big-canvas storytelling is back in vogue doesn't mean it's easy. Take it from a writer who went out on a limb four years ago, with perhaps the trickiest combination of serial and episodic storytelling on TV.

Bob Cochran, co-creator of Fox's "24," says it was a miracle the show ever made it to air, and nearly everyone involved figured the premise of a single day in 24 episodes was only good for one season. Against the odds and the prevailing trend of closed-end crime procedurals, "24," a solid hit, will return for a fifth season.

A new Fox drama, "Reunion," takes a page from the "24" playbook. Set in the present, the show builds on the flashbacks of a group of six 1986 high-school grads, dealing with a single year per episode. Far from appearing worried about what's next, the creative team has a certain giddy air of excitement as they admit their own ignorance about how the show can return for a second season. But their confidence that both Fox and audiences will stay with them if the show is completely recast indicates how much things have changed.

Certainly, neither suspense nor soaps are new. Neither is the juggling act between serial and episodic stories.

"The X-Files" battled for years to balance an audience's need for resolution with a vast and murky ongoing mythology. The makers even came up with a neat rule of thumb: eight of the season's 24 episodes had to delve into the bigger conspiracies surrounding the main characters.

But in the end, one of the show's writers and directors says he's taken a single lesson forward into his latest series, this fall's "Night Stalker" on ABC. "Audiences want a good story, well told, with characters they can embrace," says Daniel Sackheim, executive producer of the update of the 1970s mystery classic. "That's all there is to it." EDITOR’S NOTE: PRECISELY. “THE XFILES” WAS ENJOYABLE BECAUSE IT WAS BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN AND BEAUTIFULLY ACTED. THE MYTHOLOGY EPISODES AND THE STAND-ALONE EPS WERE EQUALLY EXCITING BECAUSE OF THOSE TWO ELEMENTS.

Well, not quite all. It also requires network-level patience with a new idea - not a quality for which broadcasters are famous.

But if nothing else, the need for a breakout hit may have actually brought some degree of nurturing back to new network shows. "What I hope is happening is that audiences' thirst for more daring programming is increasing," says Peter Ligouri, Fox's new president of entertainment. "At the same time, it's incumbent on us to ask writers to be more ambitious." EDITOR’S NOTE: MAKES ME WISH SOME OF THE WAY-TOO-QUICKLY CANCELLED SHOWS --- “FIREFLY” FOR EXAMPLE ---- WERE MAKING A GO OF IT THIS SEASON. THEY MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN A LITTLE MORE ROPE.

Nets promotional priority based on playing favorites
This fall, most of the major broadcast networks are taking their cue from ABC's marketing success last season with "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" by putting most of their resources behind a few select shows and trying to surround target audiences with marketing messages everywhere they can.

Faced with limited resources and fierce competition, most of the networks now believe that in order to break through the clutter and get their new shows sampled, they have to focus on their top priorities -- particularly during the crush of the fall launch period -- rather than spread their marketing dollars across the schedule.

"I do think you're seeing everyone taking their top priorities and going to what we call 360-degree marketing, which is trying to reach them in every possible way that we can," said NBC chief marketing officer John Miller.

Added Vince Manze, president, NBC Agency, "If you're working on more than three shows at a top level, you're probably doing too many." EDITOR’S NOTE: SO GET OUT YOUR QUIJA BOARDS AND DECIDE IN ADVANCE WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO GET BEHIND? (AND IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN THOSE OTHER SHOWS ENOUGH TO PROMOTE THEM, WHY DID YOU PUT THEM ON THE AIR TO BEGIN WITH?)

Cablers ready must-carry retort

WASHINGTON -- The cable industry is preparing a counterattack in the political battle the industry is having with broadcasters in the war over whether Congress should require cable operators to carry all of a TV station's digital offerings.

In a letter and a legal analysis sent to lawmakers Tuesday, the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. contends that a requirement would be unconstitutional. EDITOR’S NOTE: NOT TO MENTION…AND MORE TO THE POINT AS FAR AS THE CABLE INDUSTRY IS CONCERNED…REALLY REALLY EXPENSIVE.

The analysis comes as the broadcasters have launched an extensive lobbying campaign on the issue. The National Association of Broadcasters has been flying in local station executives and owners from across the nation in an effort to convince broadcasters of the necessity for the "multicast, must-carry" requirement.

Nearly 100 local broadcasters are expected to lobby lawmakers on the commerce committees this week. The organization also has bought advertising in newspapers and newsletters frequently read by lawmakers when they are in town and held a briefing on the issue for reporters last week


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