Supernatural parodies competitors for Sweeps

November 5, 2009

sam n deanAs a TV enthusiast, I love sweeps months. For those unaware, “sweeps” refers to the Nielsen system of measuring television ratings in the United States. The company uses electronic metering technology to capture what channel is being watched as well as gathering information about who is watching. For the months of November, February, and May, Nielsen also processes paper diaries, which are mailed to households in order to keep track of what is watched on each television set and by whom. The data gathered at the end of these months influences both program scheduling and advertising.

As ratings are more closely monitored during these months, networks and programs do their best to impress, and it’s often during sweeps months that television rolls out the big guns. Annoyingly, for those of us using our DVRs, episodes may run an extra one or two minutes longer than usual. Other stunts in the name of ratings include lesbian kisses, characters leaving, crossovers between two shows, ex’s returning to cause trouble for your favourite couple, and big name guest stars checking into the hospital or appearing in the case of the week. However, in this TV enthusiast’s opinion, the best thing about sweeps months (besides four weeks of all new episodes) is experimentation with format.

Often shows that aren’t strictly considered procedurals can get stuck in one format. Initially series like Smallville are interesting, but the viewer soon comes to realize that episodes are becoming familiar, with each installment featuring a new kryptonite-fueled ‘Freak of the Week’ causing problems for our hero and heroine. This is when sweeps month can be a blessing. Fueled by a desire to increase ratings and please their existing audience, shows dare to step outside of their comfort zone and, when done successfully, memorable television is the result.

I count the Buffy musical episode “Once More With Feeling” among the best hours of television I’ve ever seen and a successful experiment in changing the status quo. Now that we’re a week into November sweeps, I’m looking forward to seeing what new experiments the month has in store for us.

There’s certainly plenty for audiences to look forward to, including an upcoming Gossip Girl threesome or the arrival of Dr. Owen Hunt’s ex on Grey’s Anatomy, but instead I’m eagerly anticipating tonight’s all new Supernatural, in which the Winchester boys go where every TV enthusiast wants to boldy go… into TV land! I’m a new Supernatural fan who discovered the show over the summer and now can’t help singing its praises. Unlike many television shows, Supernatural has actually gotten better with age, and I am confident that the fifth season will continue this pattern.

Tonight’s episode “Changing Channels” features the return of The Trickster, who appeared previously in “Tall Tales” and “Mystery Spot”, who casts the brothers into different television genres. Although I’m not only of those lucky TV critics who has already seen the episode, I’ve read two extremely positive reviews and I do love a good TV parody. In tonight’s episode, the Winchesters not only see what life would be like in a Japanese game show and a sitcom, but the Supernatural writers have also cleverly included parodies of Thursday timeslot competitors Grey’s Anatomy and CSI. Personally I’m looking forward to any reference to last year’s terrible “Dead Denny” plot, especially since Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who played Denny on Grey’s) also appeared as Sam and Dean’s father on Supernatural. Along with the known Grey’s, CSI, and sitcom references, critics who received an early look at the episode have revealed that there are an additional two parodies that they aren’t willing to spoil.

I hope my fellow TV enthusiasts enjoy tonight’s parody packed Supernatural. I know I will.

Supernatural airs tonight at 9 PM on the CW, or Sun TV if you’re in Canada.


The Heavy Hitters Return, FlashForward premieres

September 24, 2009
Joseph Fiennes in FlashForward.

Joseph Fiennes in FlashForward.

Monday may be my personal night of television, but Thursday is the night when the most competitive shows go head to head in a battle for ratings. Hoping to reel viewers in before the juggernauts of television return, new Thursday addition Fringe premiered last week, while CW shows The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural began two weeks ago. The Thursday night ratings thus far have generally been good. Although The Vampire Diaries slipped in its second week, the numbers are still encouraging and the CW has ordered an additional nine scripts for the series, “which is the closest step executives can take without committing to a full pickup.”  With both CBS procedural CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy returning tonight at nine though, the question is how much will these popular shows cut into the ratings of the other Thursday night competitors?

Eight o’clock is a slightly less competitive, but still significant, timeslot with the aforementioned Vampire Diaries up against Fox’s popular procedural Bones, Survivor: Samoa, NBC sitcoms SNL Weekend Update and Amy Poehler’s Parks and Rec, and the series premiere of FlashForward.

Easily the most talked about new drama, Flashforward has been compared to Lost, and with the sci-fi drama entering its final season in January, FlashForward might be just the replacement ABC is looking for. ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson said, ”The intention was not to imitate Lost, but we’ve certainly been looking for that next hit, and I don’t think we’ve had as special an idea as this since then.” It doesn’t hurt that the cast even includes a couple of Lost alums in the form of Dominic Monaghan, who played fan favourite Charlie Pace, and Sonya Walger, who had a recurring role as Desmond’s love interest Penny. Monaghan’s character Simon will not appear until episode 5 or 6, but in an interview with SFX magazine, he said, “There’s certainly a [Lost] influence on FlashForward in terms of the model of the show, in the same way that Lost has a large international cast”.  The large cast of FlashForward includes a number of familiar faces, such as Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love), John Cho (the Star Trek reboot), and Jack Davenport (Norrington in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy).

Based on a science fiction novel by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer, FlashForward focuses on the aftermath of a mysterious global event in which everyone on the planet loses consciousness for two minutes, seventeen seconds. During that time, everyone in the world experiences their life six months into the future. FBI agent Mark Benford (Fiennes) creates a database of people’s flash forwards from around the world called the Mosaic Collective in order to determine what exactly happened and why. Naturally, there is already a tie-in website that features accounts of people’s flash forwards which you can find here. Perhaps the best news for potential viewers is that although based on a science-fiction novel, those involved are shying away from the label, with executive producer David S. Goyer promising that ”the only leap you have to make is the existence of the flash-forward”. Additionally, story arcs have already been worked out for five full seasons, which shows an awareness of the difficulties shows with intricate mythologies often face (including Heroes and Lost). This TV enthusiast will certainly be tuning in.

The real competition begins at nine though, with the tenth season of CSI and the two-hour premiere of Grey’s Anatomy. Both shows are extremely popular but have something to prove this year. The departure of William Petersen’s Gil Grissom impacted the procedural’s ratings and although I enjoyed Laurence Fishburne’s replacement, Dr. Raymond Langston, in the few episodes I caught, Grissom is a hard man to replace. CSI cast members and producers admitted that the show stumbled during its ninth season but that this year the show has ‘found its rhythm’ again. Tonight’s premiere, titled “Family Affair”  begins with the team investigating the death of an actress killed in a suspicious car accident and features the return of Jorja Fox’s Sara Sidle.

izzieSimilarly, Grey’s Anatomy had a rough year with the universally despised “ghost sex” plotline that dragged on for far too long and actually managed to make me wish the amicable Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who played Denny on the series) would just go away already. The “cliffhanger” last season left the lives of George (T.R. Knight) and Izzie (Katherine Heigl) hanging in the balance, but even non-spoiler addicts know who survives, so tonight’s episodes are not likely to have anyone on the edge of their seat. The two-hour premiere sees the staff of Sacred Heart dealing with George’s death and Cristina and Owen finding it difficult to abstain from sex, as instructed by Dr. Wyatt.

New to Thursdays is Fox’s supernatural drama Fringe, starring John Noble and Joshua Jackson. The show was heavily promoted by Fox during its first season and was picked up for a second year, but moving the show to the most competitive slot in primetime is a risky move.  After a game changing season finale, in which viewers learned that Peter (Jackson) was from a parallel universe, Fringe premiered last week to almost 8 million viewers and a 2.9 in the 18-49 demographic. The numbers were only a slight drop from its season finale, but there’s no indication of how Fringe will do against Grey’s and CSI. Even the most fanatic of TV enthusiasts only have so much room on our DVRs.  Creator J.J. Abrams is not pleased with the move either saying,“There are many places I’d rather be than there, but I’d rather be picked up for a second season than not.” Tonight’s episode sees Walter trying to recreate travel between realities using frogs while the Fringe division investigates the disappearance of a  highway construction worker in Pennsylvania.

The cast of Community.

The cast of Community.

Also in competition are NBC comedies The Office and Community. Last week The Office had its lowest rated premiere in four years, yet was also the highest-rated show of the night, while the series premiere of Community held onto most of its lead-in for impressive numbers. Community, about a group of misfits who attend Greendale Community College, was well reviewed by critics.

Finally there’s a new episode of Supernatural on the CW (or Sun TV in Canada) titled “Free to be You and Me”. After the Winchester brothers parted ways at the end of last week’s episode, Dean teams up with Castiel to find the Archangel Raphael, who may know where God is, and decides to make Castiel’s last night on Earth memorable. Meanwhile, Sam tries to give up hunting but receives an unexpected visit from an old flame.

Once again being Canadian means more choices in your television schedule. CTV is showing The Vampire Diaries at 7:00PM in order to accommodate both CSI and the 2-hour premiere of Grey’s Anatomy so you don’t have to choose between the procedural and the medical drama.

Happy television watching!


The Monday Night Dilemma

September 21, 2009

houseEach new TV season there is one of those nights; A night where the three hours that make up Primetime manage to include the vast majority of your favourite shows. The actual night in question is subjective, and depends on the TV enthusiast’s personal tastes, but Monday and Thursday are popular choices. These are the nights when the TV enthusiast may call to their spouse or parent “I’m not home!” if the phone dares to interrupt one hour of this sacred night, and when they refuse to leave the house because there is more to watch than their DVR is able to record. For this TV enthusiast that night is Monday, particularly this Monday when a pair of dramas return with competing two-hour premieres.

The dramas in question are Fox’s medical mystery House m.d. and NBC’s ailing Heroes. The former is entering its sixth season after a season finale that polarized fans. To recap, Dr. Gregory House, played by the four times a nominee never an Emmy winner Hugh Laurie, believed that he had detoxed from Vicodin and slept with his boss Dr. Lisa Cuddy, only to realize that he had hallucinated the whole experience and needed help. As Wilson took House to a mental hospital, ducklings Cameron and Chase finally got a storyline tied the knot in an outdoor ceremony. Although some criticized the reveal that the “Huddy”, as the fans have dubbed the relationship between House and Cuddy, sex never actually occurred, I thought it was fantastic. The quick detox and the relationship developed too quickly to have been real and I thought the episode was extremely clever. Tonight’s two-hour premiere, titled “Broken”, opens with House in the asylum making friends with his roommate Alvie (Lin Manuel-Miranda), after he is blackmailed into staying at the institution longer than he had originally planned. House m.d. airs 8:00-10:00 PM EST on Fox.

I’m less optimistic about the fourth season premiere of Heroes. In the confusing season finale the heroes saved the President, but were unable to save Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) from Sylar (Zachary Quinto).  Angela (Cristine Rose), Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), and Bennet (Jack Coleman), used Parkman’s power on the unconscious body of Sylar, mentally altering the killer’s mind and physically changing his appearance to look like and believe that he is Nathan. It’s one way to kill off a character without eliminating an actor, something the Heroes writers don’t seem to be capable of doing. Tonight’s episodes are titled “Orientation” and ” Jump, Push, Fall” and see Claire (Hayden Panettiere) adjusting to college life while Angela fears that Sylar will discover his true identity. Heroes airs 8:00-10:00 PM EST on NBC.

Barney and Robin on How I Met Your Mother.

Barney and Robin on How I Met Your Mother.

But dramas aren’t the only option tonight. CBS is calling its new line-up, which features three returning comedies and a new one, “Monday to the Max”. It all starts at 8:00 with How I Met Your Mother. In the season finale Ted (Josh Radnor) accepted a teaching job at a University and viewers were one step closer to finding out who the mother is as Saget!Ted revealed that the mother was in the classroom, and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) confessed to having feelings for one another. Tonight’s episode “Definitions”  features Robin and Barney avoiding “the talk” about their relationship while Ted begins his new job and releases his “inner douche”.

Accidentally on Purpose, starring Jenna Elfman as Billie, premieres at 8:30. The premise revolves around a film critic who sleeps with a young slacker named Zack and ends up pregnant. She begins living platonically with Zack but must also deal with her boss, who she recently broke up with. At 9:00 it’s the return of the popular Charlie Sheen vehicle Two and  Half Men then at 9:30 the night ends with the premiere of The Big Bang Theory, titled The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation“, in which our four favourite geeks return from the North Pole and Sheldon (Jim Parsons)  flies back to Texas, threatening Leonard’s (Johnny Galecki) hopes for a romantic encounter with Penny (Kaley Cuoco).

For the reality inclined there’s the beginning of an advertised “three night premiere” of ABC’s Dancing With The Stars, featuring an all new group of sixteen celebrities including Donny Osmond, Mya, Kelly Osbourne, and Macy Gray, at 8:00 PM. While the CW has the newest episodes of dramas One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl at 8:00 and 9:00 PM, respectively.

The charming Nathan Fillion stars in Castle.

The charming Nathan Fillion stars in Castle.

The 10:00 PM slot is less competitive. You have the choice of a charming, good looking, author who has witty banter with his daughter, mother, and police detective partner, or a detective I’ve dubbed “creepy” who seems to be very attached to his sunglasses. Personally I’m choosing Nathan Fillion in ABC drama Castle, the first season of which arrives on DVD tomorrow. In tonight’s season premiere “Deep in Death”, Castle attempts to fix his relationship with Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) after he looked into her mother’s death against her wishes in the season finale. If you’re really into CSI or sunglasses though, the Miami spin-off premieres tonight on CBS with an episode that reveals how the team was put together and, yes, how David Caruso’s Horatio got one of the most iconic pair of shades on television.

I’m obviously putting in a vote for Castle, but what will I be watching in the packed 8:00-10:00 PM hours? Well there are many wonderful reasons to be Canadian, among them universal healthcare and our reputation as peacekeepers, but a more shallow reason is Canadian broadcasting channels. With Canadian channels picking up nearly every American series, including those that compete against one another in the U.S., and also broadcasting Canadian content, not everything can be simulcast. As a result Global, which owns both Heroes and House, will be airing House from 8:00-10:00 PM and Heroes from 10:00-12:00 PM, leaving my DVR free for How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. Whichever solution you choose to the Monday Night Dilemma, I wish you an interruption free night of great television.


Fall Television Schedule

June 21, 2009

For the true TV enthusiast, the unveiling of fall schedules is a highly anticipated event. It’s at this time of year that we may begin to schedule our all-important television nights. What do we watch and what must we DVR? Which new dramas and comedies will we decide to try, and which will go by the wayside? Which night will become our very own “must see TV” night, during which we yell to our less involved family members or significant other “I’m not home” if the phone dares to ring? These are some of the questions resolved when the big five reveal their schedules.

Some may choose to keep track of their shows by way of a TV Guide or list, but I have to admit that there are times when a table is helpful. This is one of these times. Recently a reader asked Michael Ausiello, one of the gods in the TV enthusiast’s pantheon, if he would create a matrix of shows and when they air each night, after the fall schedules were announced. Understandably he refused, emphasizing his more important duties of gathering scoop for us Spoilerholics, but I’ve taken on the task in his stead.

I’ve created tables showing the fall schedules of the big five networks, making it easy to compare when your favourite shows are airing. I’ve also underlined the names of any new shows, not including So You Think You Can Dance (which is airing for the first time in the fall season), or Medium (which is new to CBS, but is not a new show). Despite the fact that it is probably more of the same, I have chosen to underline The Jay Leno Show.

Please keep in mind that this schedule is likely to change, particularly once the fall broadcast season begins and the inevitable early cancellations take place. In the meantime, fellow TV enthusiasts, enjoy your reality and rerun summer (unless you have cable, of course), and happy scheduling. I’ll be back soon with your current midseason schedule and my thoughts on this year’s television pilot crop.


Fox

* As of October 27th SYTYCD will run 8:00-10:00 on Tuesdays.

ABC

* ABC will also air Saturday Night Football from 8:00-11:30pm.

CBS

* CBS will also air Crimetime Saturday at 8:00 and 9:00pm and 48 Hours Mystery at 10:00pm.

NBC

* 30 Rock will replace Community at 9:30-10:00pm when it returns in October.  Community will move to SNL: Thursday’s 8:00-8:30 slot.

The CW