Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Nine - Sept. 30, 2006




The drama of trauma

The Nine explores what happens to ordinary people caught in an extraordinary situation. The result isn’t always a happy one.

By Eric Kohanik

There are at least a dozen new serialized dramas on the tube this fall. And that means it’s going to be awfully difficult for viewers to keep all the stories straight.

If there’s a show that deserves a bit of time and effort, though, it’s the one that is probably the best of the bunch – an oddly titled drama called The Nine.

The solid ensemble piece revolves around nine people who get caught in the middle of a botched bank robbery that turns into a terrifying, 52-hour hostage ordeal. Told mostly in flashback, the series is a tension-filled, complex journey from start to finish.

Producers admit The Nine is a complicated show, but creator and co-executive producer K.J.Steinberg says it was actually spawned by a friend’s real-life experience.

“He was on a horrible date with a girl,” Steinberg recalls. “They were walking home from that date, and a car pulled up, and a guy got out, and he put a gun in their faces, and he said ‘Give me all your money.’

“They did so. The guy pulled the gun out of their faces, got in the car and drove away, just leaving them there, standing, hearts beating furiously.”

When Steinberg heard the story, it intrigued her, but in an unusual way. “The first question I thought to ask was, ‘Are you stillseeing her?’” she recalls. “Because, after you know that people have survived, what you want to know is, ‘God, how did that event affect you?’ And, ‘Did it bond you to this person in a way that you never would have bonded if you hadn’t experienced this brush with death together?’”

It’s those types of questions that The Nine hopes to explore each week. Helping out with that exploration is a top-notch ensemble cast that includes Tim Daly, Chi McBride, Kim Raver, Scott Wolf and John Billingsley.

The ordeal of Steinberg’s friend had an uplifting result. “The moral of the story is, they are getting married,” she explains.

The stories don’t all have such happy endings in The Nine, and that’s what provides fuel for much of the drama.

“I thought that, in some ways, it was almost a 9/11 parable,” reflects Daly, who plays a cop caught in the crisis. “This horrible thing happens and, suddenly, your view of the world – and the way you look at your kids and the way you look at time and your life – is different. Everyone has, in their lives, moments of tragedy. How people respond to it is very interesting.”

Raver, who plays one of the hostages, takes the sentiment to another level. “Also, how you THINK you would respond to it,” she says. “For the characters, it’s going to be an interesting dynamic of ‘What were the decisions that I made inside, and how do I now bring it to my outside life?’ That conflict is what’s going to create some of the drama.”

It also makes the journey so worthwhile.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Class / Jericho - Sept. 23, 2006




Second chances

There’s always a lot of hoopla about the first episodes of new series. But it’s the second ones that really tell the tale of whether those shows will survive or fail.

By Eric Kohanik

You can never really tell if a TVshow is going to be good until you watch its second episode.

Which is why this week is a crucial one in the TV industry.

The 2006-07 TV season officially got rolling on Sept. 18 for the big American networks. That’s the day Nielsen’s weekly ratings measurements began for the new season.

Although a few new series did trickle in before that, it was last week that REALLY counted. And that’s why we saw the first really major wave of new series.

Last week’s ratings will matter a lot to the big networks, but it’s the ratings of this coming week – when new shows roll out their second episodes – that will be scrutinized extra closely. Often, those ratings will determine which new shows will survive and which ones will die. In some cases, the doomed ones may get axed right away.

It’s all a numbers game, with millions of dollars in advertising revenue riding on each ratings point. That’s why the second episode of any series has got to be great.

Producers spend a lot more time, effort and money to make the first episode – known as the pilot – really impressive. After all, that’s the episode that determines whether a show even gets onto a network schedule.

It’s also the one given to advertisers, affiliates and (last, but not least) TV columnists, who all hand down their assessments. When it comes to the second episode (and each one after that), the weekly grind of production doesn’t afford the same luxury of time or money. So, the second instalment has to be able to hold viewer interest without it.

CBS sent out advance screeners of second episodes of a couple of its new series to critics recently. It was a smart move – and a sign the network has faith in both shows.

The Class, CBS’s new Monday-night comedy, showed an appealing spark in its pilot. A creation of the producers who gave us Friends, the new series – about a class of third-graders who reunite 20 years later –has a quirky, colourful cast and takes amusing swipes at everything from friendship, infidelity and latent homosexuality to depression, suicidal tendencies (who’d have thought THAT could ever be funny?) and cruel twists of fate. The second instalment falters a bit, but there is clearly a lot more to explore with this new batch of “Friends.”

Jericho, CBS’s Wednesday mystery-drama, began its journey last week, too, basing its enthralling story on a nuclear holocaust that has apparently devastated the countryside. The big questions: How bad is that devastation and why did it happen? This week’s second episode has some answers, but poses even more queries to keep us coming back.

There aren’t many second chances in life, but the TV world does offer a few. Some new shows manage to make the most of that opportunity. For others, their secondchance may well be their last.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Men In Trees - Sept. 9, 2006



On the comeback trail

A few years ago, Anne Heche was making headlines for the wrong reasons. Now, her new TV series may finally make them for the right ones.

By Eric Kohanik

Anne Heche knows what it’s like to be…uh…crazy.

In fact, she wrote the book on the subject.

Her 2001 memoir, entitled Call Me Crazy, retraced the harsh details of her dysfunctional and abused existence as a child and laid bare the inner demons that have shaped her life and career.

Heche first became the subject of tabloid headlines in 1997, thanks to her romance with comedienne Ellen DeGeneres. The gossip cranked up to a fever pitch just hours after they split in 2000, when a dishevelled Heche ended up hospitalized after showing up on a stranger’s doorstep, rambling on about a spaceship coming to take her away.

With such an offbeat past, it seemed like one of the most profound makeovers in history to see Heche all relaxed and smiling in July, this time fielding reporters’ questions at the Television Critics Association’s network press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

Now married for five years (to cameraman Coley Laffoon) and a mom to a four-year-old son named Homer, the 37-year-old Heche has the spotlight on her again. Only this time, her job is getting all the attention.

That job is Men in Trees, a remarkably entertaining comedy-drama that gets a preview telecast on Tuesday before settling into its regular slot on Friday nights.

The series casts Heche in a smart turn as Marin Frist, a bestselling author and relationship guru who gets booked for a speaking engagement in Alaska. On the way there, she discovers that her loving fiancé has actually been a cheating horn dog.

Emotionally battered and bruised, Marin tries to pull her life back together. In the process, she realizes that the Alaskan frontier is the perfect place to do that.

Men in Trees (the title is explained in the opening episode) is somewhat reminiscent of a 1990s TV show called Northern Exposure, but the premise is considerably different.

Although set in Alaska, it is actually filmed in Vancouver and in Squamish, B.C. – surroundings that Heche has found to be inspiring, both for the show and herself.

“I had been trying to find something that really suited my personality and was, basically, irresistible,” Heche says. “This script came along, and I felt that it was so wonderful and such a great combination of humour and drama.”

Heche sees a lot of her own journey in her character, too. “I feel that Marin, at heart, is like I am, at heart,” she says. “She believes that everyone deserves love. The rug gets pulled out from under her and she has to question everything that she believes.

“I find that interesting. I think self-exploration is one of the journeys in life that we are blessed to be able to have. To be able to do it with humour and, hopefully, grace is what I think this show allows us to do.”

And there’s nothing crazy about that at all.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The New Fall TV Season - Sept. 2, 2006




Welcome to the fall fare

There will be a lot of great serials to munch on this season. That is, if you have an appetite – and the time– for all of them.

By Eric Kohanik

Programming bandwagons come and go in the TV world. And this fall, the serialized drama is the one that networks have jumped onto with full force.

It’s a trend that began with such hits as 24, Lost and Prison Break, all of which have stories stretching out over a long period.

This season, there are at least a dozen new weekly series following the serialized formula of storytelling. It’s good news and bad news.

The bad news, of course, is that most new shows don’t even make it to the end of the first season. That could leave millions of viewers dangling with unresolved storylines.

It probably bodes well for DVD sets of such shows. At least there, viewers will be able to feast on the leftover episodes.

But the good outweighs the bad this fall. The good news is that TV is serving up one of its strongest lineups in years.

What’s leading the pack? The buzz is huge for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Sundays; CTV and Mondays; NBC, starting Sept. 17 and 18). Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry top a fantastic cast in a drama that goes behind the scenes of a fictitious sketch-comedy show similar to Saturday Night Live.

On the comedy front, SNL fixture Tina Fey is tackling more or less the same theme, although not nearly as well, in a behind-the-scenes comedy called 30 Rock (Wednesdays; NBC and Saturdays; CTV, Oct. 11 and 14).

Other good news? Big-name stars will really light up the screen this fall.

Leading that pack: James Woods as one mean s.o.b. of a lawyer in Shark (Thursdays; CBS, Global, Sept. 21). There’s also Anne Heche as a motivational speaker who heads to Alaska to escape a cheating fiancĂ© in Men in Trees (Fridays; ABC, Citytv, previewing Sept. 12). And Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths play siblings at the core of Brothers & Sisters (Sundays; ABC, Global, Sept. 24).

Big names highlight the comedy side, too. Ted Danson is back as a group therapist in the clever Help Me Help You (Tuesdays; ABC, CH, Sept. 26). And, if broad comedy is really your thing, you may just be able to stomach John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor as two aging pals in Twenty Good Years (Wednesdays; NBC, Oct. 4).

As for all those serialized dramas, there are many that can whet your appetite. Watch for the tales of nine bank-robbery hostages to unfold in The Nine (Wednesdays; ABC and Saturdays; CTV, Oct. 4 and 7) and the cosmic connections that link the characters of Six Degrees(Wednesdays; Global and Thursdays; ABC, Sept. 20 and 21).

Check out Donnie Wahlberg as a fugitive on the lam in Runaway (Mondays; The CW, Sept. 25). And keep an eye out for Dana Delany coping with the abduction of her teenaged son in Kidnapped (Wednesdays; NBC, Global, Sept. 20).

We’ll explore most of these as the fall unfolds. For now, let the season begin.