Thoughts on the 2009 Emmys

September 21, 2009
Tina Fey and Jon Hamm of 30 Rock and Mad Men

Tina Fey and Jon Hamm of 30 Rock and Mad Men

Although Neil Patrick Harris, in his dual role as host and producer, tried valiantly to make the Emmys legendary, in the end they were only “Legen”, let down by the utterly predictable winners.  Hoping to bounce back from last year’s lowest rated Emmy telecast ever, the Academy seemed to be ready for change. New faces like Simon Baker (The Mentalist) and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) were nominated, the nomination categories were expanded to allow the inclusion of shows with popular appeal, like Family Guy and How I Met Your Mother, and a new addition asked viewers to vote online for their breakthrough moment.  With the selections being from Gossip Girl, American Idol, and True Blood, it’s very clear exactly which demographic the producers hoped to capture, but under the shiny new coat of paint were the same old flawed Emmys.

The show got off to a great start, with an opening number from Harris written by the men behind the new Broadway-bound adaptation of Catch Me If You Can, and delivered one great surprise in the form of a win for Kristin Chenoweth. With the much loved Pushing Daisies in the ground, she wasn’t the expected choice for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy but she was certainly a deserving one. The win caused Chenoweth to, in this wonderful word choice from the Emmy Awards live blog by The Live Feed, lose “it in adorable squeaky tears”.

Unfortunately, at least as far as the winners went, the awards promptly spiraled downhill from here. With 4 of the 5 nominations for Best Writing in a Comedy taken by 30 Rock, there really wasn’t another way the category would go. In perhaps the only other surprise of the night Toni Colette took home the trophy for Best Actress in a Comedy for United States of Tara and Jon Cryer(?!) won for Best Supporting Actor. I’m just waiting for the Kanye macros on this one, as is The TV Addict who tweeted “Jon Cryer… where’s Kanye when you need him?”

“Jon Cryer I’m real happy for you and imma let you finish but  Neil Patrick Harris had one of the best Supporting Actor in a Comedy performances of all time!”

Two-time Emmy Winner Jeff Probst.

Two-time Emmy Winner Jeff Probst.

I’ve never been a Survivor fan and couldn’t care any less about Jeff Probst and his dimples taking home the Best Reality Host award for the second year in a row, but he does have my respect for commending Neil Patrick Harris with “This is how you host the Emmys!”, referring to the dismal performance last year of the five nominees in his category. The Amazing Race took home the award for Best Reality Show once again. Backstage Probst suggested that Race should pull an Oprah and withdraw themselves from the category in order to make room for other nominees. Race producers replied that this was unlikely.

Tabitha and Napoleon’s hip hop number was well done but short. Still, I enjoyed the glimpse of quirky Mark Kanemura.

I don’t know anyone who has actually watched the nominees for Best miniseries and TV movie each year. The only one of the lot I had seen was 24: Redemption, but on a purely shallow level I did enjoy hearing Irish actor Brendan Gleeson’s acceptance speech.

As most have pointed out, the majority of the Emmys audience probably didn’t get the Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog segment at all, but this TV enthusiast adored it. As we’ve come to expect from the Whedon brothers, with the exception of some of Dollhouse, the writing was smart, and Neil (as the titular villain) and Nathan Fillion (as his nemesis Captain Hammer) nailed (yup, pun intended and I make no apologies) the segment, joking about the decreased screen size of the Internet and the buffering message familiar to us all, and even sneaking in a Tonys reference. I’d also hazard a guess that fans of Whedon will be using the phrase “sofa monkeys” in the future.

The other high point of the show, as usual, was Ricky Gervais. The British actor got in the following jabs about theEmmy broadcast quality and its ratings, “Better than last year, isn’t’? Though that was always in the cards wasn’t it?” and “That joke just for the 5,000 people in this room, not for the 5,000 people watching at home.” The Daily Show took home an award for Outstanding Comedy/Variety show and the team behind Hugh Jackman’s Oscar opening number deservedly won for Best Original Song/Lyrics.

Michael Emerson’s second win for his supporting role in Lost was deserved but expected, while Cherry Jones took home an award for her role as the President of the United States on 24.

Bill and Sookie's first meeting was voted "breakthrough performance".

Bill and Sookie's first meeting was voted "breakthrough performance".

Throughout the show, viewers were reminded that they could vote online for Best Breakthrough Performance, choosing between three nominees. Although the segments, hosted by So You Think You Can Dance‘s Cat Deeley, were meant to appeal to a younger female demographic, they only served to draw attention to the fact that one of the classiest hosts on television was one again snubbed. There’s always next year Cat. The performances themselves, taken from American Idol, Gossip Girl, and True Blood, were, much like the Emmys themselves, uninspiring. Predictably, the much loved HBO drama won the popular vote.

Like in the comedy category, the award for Best Writing in a Drama was dominated by one show and if you can’t guess this one then you’re not much of a TV enthusiast are you? Yup, it’s Mad Men. The night wrapped up with a series of wins, each more predictable than the last, as Glenn Close took Best Actress for Damages, last year’s winner Bryan Cranston took home a second trophy for Breaking Bad, and yes 30 Rock and Mad Men were named Best Comedy and Best Drama, respectively.

The general verdict is that Harris did the very best he could, changing up the order of awards, keeping the show moving, and presenting a look at what goes on behind the scenes of the Emmys. Maybe if he had also singlehandedly chosen the winners the show would truly have been legendary.

A complete list of the 2009 Emmy Award Winners can be found here.

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Is too much Glee a bad thing?

September 9, 2009

GleeI’m a huge fan of musical theatre, so when I first heard about Glee I thought ‘sounds wonderful but it probably won’t last long’.  Imagine my surprise when Fox, the network behind the notoriously poor treatment and subsequent cancellation of such shows as Dark Angel, Wonderfalls, Keen Eddie, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and of course Firefly, actually started to promote Glee!  Likely hoping to cash in on the success of High School Musical, Fox has promoted the Hell out of this show, premiering the pilot during May sweeps after American Idol (where it was watched by an audience of almost ten million), and re-airing the pilot last Friday while its stars tweeted commentary.

Picked by critics as one of the top new shows to watch, Glee focuses on a high school Glee club in Ohio run by Will (Matthew Morrison), a Spanish teacher hoping to recapture his glory days.  The Glee club members include Diva Mercedes, wheelchair-bound Artie, Goth girl Tina, gay teen Kurt, and Rachel Barry, a Tracy Flick character played by Spring Awakening star Lea Michele, as the lead dreaming of stardom.  In the pilot Will blackmailed star football player Finn (played by Canadian Cory Monteith) into joining the Glee kids, and faced rivalry from Jane Lynch’s scene-stealing Coach Sylvester, who is not about to let the Glee club steal the spotlight from her cheerleaders.

Don’t let the high school setting, popular vs. unpopular theme, and the likely blossoming attraction between Finn and Rachel fool you though, this is not High School Musical.  For one thing the stars can actually sing, and Morrison and Michele are former Broadway stars.  The musical numbers range from standard musical theatre songs, like Barry’s audition piece “On My Own” from Les Miserables, to classic songs, such as the Glee club’s first group performance to Journey’s “Don’t stop believin’”, and Top 40 Hits.  “Rehab” and “Don’t Stop Believin’”, both performed in the pilot episode, were released on itunes and placed on the iTunes Top Songs chart.  A soundtrack will be available November third and the track listing has already been released, revealing other songs to be performed this season on the show.  These include Kanye West hit “Gold Digger”, “Sweet Caroline”, Rihanna track “Take a Bow”, and show stopper “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.

Glee has lined up the guest stars, including Tony award winner Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies), Josh Groban, and Broadway alum Victor Garber (Eli Stone), as Will’s dad, but most importantly, the show is funny.  I admit that I’ve never seen anything of creator Ryan Murphy’s, so I can’t compare the humour in Glee to say Popular, but it has been described by critics as “cynical”, “biting”, and “snarky”, all good signs in my book.

glee2Understandably, for a show about underdogs, Glee also has a lot of heart.  The Glee club remain, at their core, a group of outsiders who want to be a part of something fun and the performance of “Don’t Stop Believin’”, where Will sees what his club can do and everything comes together is a great television moment, but is too much Glee a bad thing?

Although the hype surrounding the show is a great sign, and hopefully it will keep audiences interested and attract more than the niche audience I expected to tune in, is it possible that too much buzz is a bad thing?  Buzz doesn’t always translate into viewers and, blame my inner pessimist for this comment, sometimes high expectations are a bad thing.

After the unjust cancellation of Dead Like Me I was thrilled when I heard that Bryan Fuller was working on something new featuring a man who could bring people back to life with a touch of his finger.  This was, of course, Pushing Daisies. As a huge fan of anything A) quirky and B) done by Bryan Fuller I expected by have borderline obsessive love for Pushing Daisies.  Oddly enough I didn’t, and some of that was due to the huge hype surrounding it.  Yes the show was different from anything currently airing and its stars were great, but while I enjoyed Daisies it was never must see TV for me and given the ability to renew one show, I would have picked Kings over Pushing Daisies in a heartbeat.

Or how about Dollhouse?  I don’t mean the pilot, which tended to be reviewed by critics as ‘meh but with potential’, but the sixth episode we kept hearing about.  “Man on the Street” was supposed to be a huge game changer, the episode where the show turned around and we saw Joss in all his glory… except that we didn’t.  “Man on the Street” marked an improvement in the show yes, but after all that discussion and disappointed fans waiting for the magical number six, it just didn’t live up to expectations, much like Dollhouse itself.

Another example from the world of cable is Mad Men.  I’ve never watched Mad Men but the sheer volume of critical hype, including its nomination for four of the five writing in a drama category Emmys, has actually resulted in this TV enthusiast never wanting to hear another word about the show, rather than an intense desire to tune in.

Sometimes hype is a great thing that can boost a show from something you don’t have any interest in to something you’ll consider watching, and that’s fantastic, but when it reaches fever pitch, sometimes it creates unrealistic expectations or, worse, becomes an item of pop culture you never want to hear about again.  I enjoyed the pilot of Glee immensely, I’m thrilled that Fox is promoting it at all, and I’m certainly hoping that Glee will succeed.  I just hope that too much Glee isn’t a turn-off.

glee3

Glee airs tonight at 9:00 EST on Fox.


Kings Ends its Reign – What Went Wrong?

July 25, 2009

kings dvdTonight creator Michael Green’s Kings airs its series finale. Based on the biblical story of David, Kings takes place in the fictional kingdom of Gilboa, which resembles the United States but is ruled by an absolute monarchy. The cast, led by Ian McShane (“Deadwood”) as King Silas Benjamin, includes Sebastian Stan (“Gossip Girl”) as the closeted Crown Prince Jack, and Australian actor Christopher Egan (“Eragon”) as soldier David Shepherd, who defeats an enemy tank, called a Goliath, to become a national hero.

Originally airing Sunday nights as a lead-in for NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, Kings premiered in fourth place with 6.47 million viewers and a 1.6/4 share in the desired 18-49 demographic. This figure continued to drop, prompting NBC to move the show to Saturday night but after just one Saturday airing, Kings was banished to the summer. Despite receiving generally positive reviews and being considered by some to be the most original drama of the season, Kings was officially cancelled in May at the network upfronts. When it returned to burn-off remaining episodes, it was without promotion and without many viewers. Last week Kings drew a dismal 1.57 million viewers and received a 0.4 demographic rating.

Which begs the question what went wrong?  The show was not a critical darling, like Pushing Daisies, but reviewers generally felt it had strong aspects, a great deal of potential, and was one of the most original series they had seen come along in awhile.  Then again, American audiences aren’t always known for catching on to unique or high-concept shows.

What is clear is that Kings was an ambitious show with a larger mythology. It was the sort of show you expect to see on a cable network like HBO or Showtime with the likes of Carnivale or Rome, certainly not on the fourth place network, who recently announced that Jay Leno would be filling its 10pm primetime slots instead of original programming. One look at the Emmy nominees for Best Drama says it all. The only network shows nominated are House and Lost, both shows that have been on the air long enough to pass the 100 episode mark.

kings groupIt’s a formula known only too well. A intelligent original show = cancellation. In a world where the originality of ABC’s Pushing Daisies or Eli Stone are overlooked in favour of a less engaging Grey’s Anatomy spin-off or an umpteenth edition of The Bachelor, what chance did Kings ever have? Perhaps this is why so many of the 2009-10 pilots contain the same tried and tested formulas, including the ever popular medical drama, and more police procedurals.

Kings was a different sort of show and NBC never knew what to do with it.  I’ve read an article that opposes the suggestion that Kings failed due to NBC’s poor treatment of it.  The point of the article seems to be that people weren’t very interested in Kings and it would have failed anyway.  The writer might be right, it might have failed, but I don’t agree that NBC did all they could for the show.  The sad fact is that, as creator Michael Green said, “They were very confused with how to market our show and I think, ultimately, I think it’s one of the reasons they lost the desire to make a success out of it. It’s very easy to say, ‘we have a nice cop show we executed really well for you.’ It’s harder to say, ‘we have a character-based soap that’s got some bizarre elements to it.'”

This is why, as a fan of Kings, I’m finding it hard to let go.  Unlike Pushing Daisies, a show that received an unlikely second season in order to build an audience, not to mention critical attention and network promotion but ultimately could not pull in viewers, Kings was incorrectly promoted and we can only speculate about what might have been.  What if it had been paired with a more compatible show than Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice? What if Kings had a better time slot?  What if NBC had a plan regarding how to market the show?

Green said that while the network was extremely supportive of how Kings approached the story of King David, there was discomfort with advertising it.  “I talked extensively with them about this,” he said. “It was a very bizarre divide. I found that in the development of the show, on the creative level of what the episodes and their content would be, I got nothing but support and interest in the religious or magical or somehow belief-inspired storytelling.

The Royal Family and David Shepherd

The Royal Family and David Shepherd

“When the time came for the marketing, there was a very deliberate, outspoken, loud desire articulated by them that, ‘We are not going to say King David.’ They were scared to say King David. They just felt that that would be detrimental to the show,” Green explained. “I thought it was the clearest way to express what the show was about, and I thought it might actually generate interest. But there was a fear of either backlash or marginalizing or pigeonholing. There were a lot of reasons they had. They wouldn’t go near it in the marketing, but they never had a problem with it on the creative level, which is why I was so baffled.”

Unfortunately, some also feel that Kings was a late starter, much like fellow new show Dollhouse, and that only the last few episodes of the show have realized its full potential.  Fans of Joss Whedon will recall tuning into the highly anticipated Dollhouse pilot and finding it largely mediocre.  They may also recall the numerous television critics, as well as Whedon himself, telling viewers to stay tuned as the sixth episode was a “game changer” and that Whedon had more creative freedom to tell the stories he wanted to tell from that point onwards.  The series did indeed pick up towards the end, aided by Alan Tudyk’s scene stealing performance as “Alpha”, although I’m still not sold on its brilliance.

Ian McShane and Chris Egan star in Kings.

Ian McShane and Chris Egan star in Kings.

I don’t necessarily agree that Kings was a late starter though, as I was hooked from the brilliant two-hour pilot, but as the series has built towards its finale it has gone from being great storytelling to true must-see TV.   Certainly ratings are a part of the television industry and without the ad revenue generated by ratings, a network will not profit.  Still, there are so many examples of shows that have been on the bubble of cancellation only to grow their audience after surviving the first season.  This is especially true of a show like Kings, which has a seasonal arc and is not a procedural where all ends are neatly wrapped up within an episode.

There have been a lot of great shows this season that were cancelled.  Although I found it a little too sugary sweet for my tastes at times, I do understand mourning the loss of Pushing Daisies.  With the news that NBC has cancelled it, I wonder if Canadian series The Listener will not get a second season on CTV.  Fox’s summer show Mental is likely cancelled as well, and, as I wrote in a previous entry, I will certainly miss the quirky and touching Eli Stone.  More than any of these cancellations though, I will miss Kings.  Now that it has become available to pre-order on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com, I will be purchasing the DVD set and I will be suggesting it to friends who missed the series.  With any luck it will become the kind of cult hit shows like Wonderfalls have become after their cancellations.

As for tonight, I’ll be sitting down to watch the series finale hoping for closure and enjoying the last new episode of the show.  I hope I’m not alone.

The series finale of Kings, titled “The New King part 2” airs tonight at eight on NBC.

Kings: The Complete Series will be released on DVD on September 29th.


The Darlings Return

July 18, 2009

DirtySexyMoney-S1

Although I watched and enjoyed all three of ABC’s Wednesday night dramas, I  have to admit that Dirty Sexy Money was never my favourite of the bunch. It  started off well, with a stellar cast including Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) and  Donald Sutherland (Commander in Chief), and the primetime soap continued to   offer sex and scandal, I just preferred the whimsical comedy Pushing Daisies and touching drama Eli Stone. When all three shows were cancelled in November  I was disappointed, but not surprised.

So the news that ABC would be using the summer to burn-off unaired episodes of the three series was a pleasant surprise. June saw Pushing Daisies wrap-up in  a quickly tacked on, but no less heartwarming, way as Chuck reunited with her aunts and Penny found her father, Emerson Cod.  Unresolved plots, including the appearance of Ned’s father, will presumably unfold over the brightly- coloured pages of a comic book in the near future, but that’s a post for another day.

A week ago Eli Stone aired its series finale and came full circle as the title lawyer had a conversation with his father/God set at the same mountain where he scattered his father’s ashes in the pilot, and Taylor became engaged once more to a lawyer at her father’s firm, this time Matt Dowd.  Dirty Sexy Money is the last of the dramas to wrap-up.  The first of its four remaining episodes will air tonight at 10:00 p.m. EST, with the series finale scheduled to air on August 8th.

It can be difficult enough to remember what last happened on your favourite show over the summer, let alone over such an extended hiatus.  I’ll admit that I needed a few recaps to remember what the Darlings were up to when we last saw them in December.  Adding to the confusion is the fact that ABC has decided to air the Thanksgiving episode “The Facts”, which was preempted on November 26th by the Barbara Walters interview with Barack Obama, instead of continuing where the series left off in December.

This is the episode that uses unaired footage of Samaire Armstrong, who played Juliet Darling, to explain her absence in the second season.  Why air this episode now?  Well apparently “The Facts” is more of a clip show, helpful to catch up audiences who haven’t seen the series in seven months, and contains other unused film from season one.  The plot features a relentless reporter played by Rena Sofer (Heroes) and the Darling family Chauffeur as he recalls his version of Darling events.  Meanwhile, Leticia, who is under house arrest, decides to hold a major fashion show at the Darling mansion.  Perennial guest star Gina Torres, who you may have seen on Pushing Daisies as Emerson’s “baby mana” or as an attorney on Eli Stone, appears as well.

With Dirty Sexy Money resuming normal continuity next Saturday with episode eleven, “The Convertible”, here’s a recap of what happened when we last saw the series in December.  The Darlings were dealing with the aftermath of Patrick’s inauguration as Senator, which turned tragic when his beloved Carmelita was shot and killed.  Nick and Lisa continued to argue over custody of their daughter Kiki but when Nick left Kiki in Karen Darling’s care for an hour, Lisa decided to sue for full custody.  Brian Darling rejoined the church and was trying to make his marriage to Andrea work, while Jeremy had come up with a plan to get Simon Elder off his tail and reunite with Nola Lyons, who was being blackmailed by Simon Elder, by faking amnesia.

Although the series’ creators didn’t have the chance to alter the thirteenth episode, as Pushing Daisies did, after being cancelled, creator Craig Wright does state that the final episodes will reveal “who killed Nick’s dad, and the Nick/Karen/Lisa love triangle will come to a conclusion.”  Also unlike Daisies, no comics continuation is in the works.  So what would have happened if the series had continued?  Wright disclosed that youngest daughter Juliet would have been involved in a “Patty-Hearst-like” situation.  Ultimately, Wright envisioned a happy ending for Juliet though, where “she ends up married to a soccer coach at a small girls’ boarding school in western Connecticut, where she teaches drama and raises a family of five sons.  The fact that a happy ending for her will never air may be my greatest regret about the show being canceled. I wanted her to find happiness.”

Dirty Sexy Money: Season 2 will be released on DVD on August 18th.