Saturday, January 27, 2007

TCA Press Tour - Jan. 27, 2007

Pasadena, Calif.


When opportunity knocks

Some have a gloomy outlook on TV's future. Others regard the shifting sands in the TV landscape as an exciting circumstance to be seized.

By Eric Kohanik

The Television Critics Association’s semi-annual network press tour is many things to many people.

Held in Los Angeles every January and July, the event brings together 200 reporters, critics and columnists from media outlets across the United States and Canada. For them, it’s mostly a chance to preview new shows, talk to network executives and mingle with stars.

For producers and networks, meanwhile, the TCA press tour is often a chance to crow about plans for the future – that is, when there’s something good to crow about. Even when there isn’t, though, networks put the best spin possible on what lies ahead.

This year’s January press tour had its share of that. With traditional TV viewership in a continued decline while alternative platforms continue to grow as a home for programming, the sands of the TV landscape are continuing to shift. Some see it as a gloomy scenario; others see positive aspects.

“The only things we can be certain of in our business, entertainment in general, in the next five years is that people will go to watch movies in dark rooms with other people,” executive producer Mark Burnett quipped at a press conference for The MTV Movie Awards, which he will oversee, and turn into a live broadcast for the first time, on June 3. “[But] I think there’s nothing certain about the future of the type of television we’re going to watch.”

The creative force behind such TV franchises as Survivor, Rock Star and The Apprentice, Burnett has also had success recently with Gold Rush, an online interactive game “show” he created last year.

“Whatever [television] is in the future, it’s some convergent, interactive experience,” Burnett declares. “Things are happening so fast in technology. But I don’t have any doom and gloom. You know something? I see only opportunities. That’s not a bullsh--answer. That’s how I really think.”

As for the TV opportunities viewers face in the short term, this month’s TCA Press Tour rolled out a lot of dismal offerings. But there were a few gems thrown in as well.

CBS has one of the most promising entries in Rules of Engagement, which premieres Feb. 5. It’s a comedy that casts Oliver Hudson as an engaged guy who gets a few oddball lessons in love from a jaded married neighbour (?Seinfeld grad Patrick Warburton) and a footloose single pal (David Spade).

Rules of Engagement is everything that Brad Garrett’s Fox sitcom, ’Til Death, has tried to be this season, with one significant difference: this one is actually good.

As for what other good things may await TV, Burnett sees it in a five-year time frame.

“Going five years ahead,” Burnett says, “nothing in television will be the same. [But] I don’t think anyone can dictate what that is.

“I don’t know in five years. And, honestly, beware of the people that say they know.”

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Prison Break / Heroes - Jan. 20, 2007

Monday; Fox, Global
Monday; NBC, Global

Back to business.

Shuffling the deck

Networks have been doing a lot of tinkering with their schedules this season. In the end, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

By Eric Kohanik

Although most of us are still mired in the depths of winter, Hollywood is already focusing on next fall.

Mid-January usually marks the beginning of pilot season, when American networks actually start assembling the new programming they hope will become part of their schedules next fall and winter. Pilot season stretches all the way to May, when the networks unveil their fall lineups to advertisers at splashy presentations in New York City. Between now and then, the TV world will be a flurry of activity, deal-making and, of course, schedule-shuffling.

The big American nets have already been shuffling the deck pretty frequently this season as they scramble to dump programming misfires and try to find saviours that will keep viewers coming back.

In October and November, a slew of serialized dramas, both newcomers and returning shows, went on hiatus. In some cases, it was meant to keep viewers on the hook until the hot shows come back. In other cases, the move was simply designed to get rid of really bad shows before they do even more damage.

In any case, those serialized dramas are now starting to trickle back onto schedules. Fox brings new episodes of Prison Break back to the tube on Monday, picking up the elongated story of Michael (Wentworth Miller), Lincoln (Dominic Purcell), T-Bag (Robert Knepper) and the rest of those prison fugitives where things left off at the end of November.

NBC, meanwhile, has steadily been teasing viewers with reruns of Heroes over the past month in order to whet the appetites of that show’s loyal fans. The network finally stops messing with those folks this week and brings the rookie fantasy drama back with new episodes on Monday night as well.

There’s plenty of other shuffling going on. A lot of networks seem to have so few good shows that they end up filling gaps in their lineups by running the same episode of their hit shows twice. ABC has been following that practice on Fridays almost all season long, rerunning instalments of its Thursday gems – Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy and Men in Trees – on Fridays in an attempt to plug the holes in what continues to be a leaky primetime schedule.

Network programmers at Fox, meanwhile, are trying out Brad Garrett’s struggling new comedy series, ’Til Death, on Sunday this week, in hopes that the network’s high Sunday viewership (thanks to The Simpsons and company) might get viewers to return and check the sitcom out in its regular slot on Thursdays. In fact, Fox will be trying that double-pump tactic again next week, too.

Sometimes, though, there really is no amount of schedule tinkering that will actually fool viewers into believing that a bad show is actually good.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

24 / American Idol - Jan. 13, 2007

THE 24
Sunday and Monday; Fox, Global
Tuesday and Wednesday; Fox, CTV

A strong one-two punch for a struggling network.

Just in the nick of time

Here we go again! Jack Bauer faces another bad day, while Paula, Randy and Simon brace themselves for another parade of bad singers.

By Eric Kohanik

January seems to have come along just in the nick of time for the battered executives at the Fox network.

The fall TV season turned out to be one bad day after another for those execs. It was a nightmare of failed new series (Justice, Vanished, Happy Hour) and struggling new shows the network has kept on the air (’Til Death, Standoff). Even worse were the ideas that didn’t make it. (Remember the O.J.Simpson debacle?)

So Fox programmers can’t help but be excited about the one-two punch they have in store for viewers this week.

Leading the way, of course, is Jack Bauer.Now there’s a guy who really knows what it’s like to have a bad day.

Jack has had a few really bad days. In fact, they’ve been the worst days of his life. And viewers have seen each one played out over the past five TV seasons on Fox’s Emmy-winning 24.

When last we saw Jack Bauer – played, of course, with Emmy-winning, steely intensity by Kiefer Sutherland – he had reached the end of the fifth worst day of his life. He had been nabbed by enemy agents and was acaptive on a slow boat to China.

And as the sixth worst day of Jack’s life begins to unfold this week, we’re about to find out that a lot has happened since then.

In fact, it’s almost two years later and Jack has been the victim of a lot of torture in thattime. Physically and emotionally, he has sunk just about as low as he can go.

Fox rolls out the sixth-season premiere of 24as a two-parter Sunday and Monday. It will be one of the most star-studded seasons in the show’s history.

Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart, who scored lots of critical accolades last season as the evil U.S. president and first lady, will put in return appearances. Also back in the picture are Mary Lynn Rajskub, James Morrison, Jayne Atkinson and DB Woodside.

This season will see a parade of new faces, though. James Cromwell joins the cast as Jack’s estranged father. The rest of the stellar lineup will include: Chad Lowe, Regina King, Rick Schroder, Peter MacNicol, PowersBoothe, Harry Lennix and Alexander Siddig.

Of course, it’s a different parade of talents that judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell encounter as American Idol begins its sixth season this week.

The formula is well known by now, of course. The first few episodes of the show offer highlights of auditions that took place in the summer and fall. After that, the show clicks into performance mode as it wends its way toward crowning the next Idol in the spring.

Viewers always seem split on which portion of the show’s run they prefer. Either way, they tend to watch it all, making the entire show seem stronger than ever.

And, no doubt, that will suit those battered Fox executives just fine.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Apprentice - Jan 06, 2007

Sunday; NBC, Global


Back to business

Like a lot of reality shows, The Apprentice simply got boring. Maybe as new setting and a few new twists can keep the show from getting fired.

By Eric Kohanik

The trouble with a lot of reality-TV shows is the novelty tends to wear off quickly.

And when that happens, frankly, they just get boring.

So, it then becomes imperative for producers to reinvent the wheel. They do anything they can to keep it rolling.

That's exactly the point we're at as host Donald Trump and 18 new competitors get back to business on The Apprentice, which begins its sixth season – yes sixth season - on sunday night.

This time around, The Apprentice has switched home base, forsaking its traditional digs inside New York City's Trump Tower for the sunnier surroundings of southern California and a luxurious mansion that will be home for the show's competitors.

Well, some of them.

According to NBC, the show's plan for this season calls for a "social experiment of haves and have-nots." To accomplish that, each week's winners will get to live like kings and queens - er, make that Trumps and Trumpettes - inside the opulent mansion.

The losers? They have to camp in tents out in the backyard. They also have to use outdoor showers and portable toilets.

Aw, poor babies!

Yes, this is as gimmicky as TV gets. But then, The Apprentice and inventive executive producer Mark Burnett really do need every gimmick imaginable to reinvigorate waning interest in the show.

I truly devoured the debut season of The Apprentice. I watched it religiously, not only because I had been assigned to review each episode, but also because the concept was fresh and different. Plus, Trump's signature line - "You're fired!" - had not yet become the hackneyed expression it now is.

With each subsequent season, however, The Apprentice just became less and less interesting. In part, it was because we had been there, seen it. And, in part, it seemed that, more and more, all we were doing was watching one big commercial for The Trump Organization's assorted ventures. Topping off that feeling was the show's tiresome practice of suckling on the nipples of other corporate logos and product placements.

Now, The Apprentice is promising a bunch of "engaging" new twists. The winning project managers get to keep that role until their team loses. They also get to sit in the boardroom and advise Trump on which member of the losing team should be canned.

Whether all of this is enough to bolster the sagging fortunes of The Apprentice remains to be seen. If not, it might just be the show that ends up getting fired.