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 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.

When Good Shows Go Bad

August 11, 2009

Television Without Pity recently published an item on the “worst of the best”, choosing the worst episodes of great shows including Veronica Mars, House m.d., The Sopranos, and The West Wing.  Even the most consistently good shows have their missteps, those episodes that fail to live up to expectations or, Tv gods forbid, ones so bad you wonder how the episodes ever made it past the writers room.  We console ourselves with those truly great hours of television that we can watch over and over again, including such classics as How I Met Your Mother’s “Slap Bet”, or Doctor Who‘s “Blink”, but what about those entirely forgettable, or worse, memorable for all the wrong reasons, episodes?

Television Without Pity’s comprehensive list covers many of the obvious television missteps, from the “Jack’s tats” episode of Lost (titled “Strangers in a Strange Land”) with guest star Bai Ling, to the preachy Veronica Mars episode “Un-American Graffiti” with its messages about bigotry and underage drinking.  I don’t actually think any Dexter episode has been bad enough to land on one of these lists, but I can see the reasoning behind sticking second season finale “The British Invasion” there, and I was glad to know that I wasn’t the only one disappointed by the Doctor Who Easter special “Planet of the Dead”.  I do, however, have a few additions to their list.  Here are some of my picks for worst of the best:

Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episodes: “The Zeppo” and “Beer Bad”

Buffy steps down he evolutionary chain in "Beer Bad"

Buffy steps down he evolutionary chain in "Beer Bad"

TWoP included Buffy in its list, but chose the poltergeist-inspired sex episode “Where the Wild Things Are” instead.  It’s certainly a worthy choice, as I really can’t remember anything happening in this episode beyond crawling vines, Buffy and Riley having a lot of sex, and a girl hacking off her hair in a closet, but here are a few other possibilities.

“The Zeppo” is, in my opinion, the black mark on my favourite season of the show.  I have some bias here as this is a Xander-centric episode and I’ve never been a fan of the character, but I found the third-season episode, which sees Xander getting a car and spending a harrowing night away from the scoobies, very dull.  This is one of those episodes I rarely re-watch and could wipe from my DVD set without a second thought.

However, the Buffy episode that is truly the worst of the best is the universally loathed “Beer Bad”.  I’d love to know how this was pitched in the writers room and the response it received.  Did it really seem like a good idea on paper?  The episode features Buffy, still hurting from Parker’s rejection after they slept together,  getting drunk with four college boys and waking up the next morning to more than a hangover.  The beer turns them all into Neanderthals and the boys begin a fire that Buffy saves Parker from.  In the episode’s only good moment, Neanderthal Buffy beats him with a club when he apologizes for his actions.

Show: Lost
Episode: The Kate-centric episodes (including “Eggtown” and “Whatever the Case May Be”)

Evangeline Lily plays ex-con Kate Austen in Lost.

Evangeline Lily plays ex-con Kate Austen in Lost.

Since the beginning I’ve had a few issues with Lost.  Plotlines and monsters were introduced only to be forgotten about or never explained and more new characters than should ever be on a supposedly deserted island kept coming out of the woodwork.  The main problem though was consistency and much of this depended on the character who was featured in the episode.  So I came to dread the Kate episodes, preparing for what was bound to be a dreary hour.  As an ex-convict, Kate should really be more interesting than she is.  Instead I find her to be the dullest character on the island, and her episodes about retrieving toy planes, miraculously not being convicted of murder, and being unable to choose between Sawyer and Jack do nothing for me.

Show: How I Met Your Mother
Episode: “The Best Burger in New York”

Regis Philbin guest stars on How I Met Your Mother

Regis Philbin guest stars on How I Met Your Mother

Many shows rely on, or become famous for, their stunt-casting.  Some of them genuinely aren’t that funny without that “special guest star”, but How I Met Your Mother is a genuinely funny sitcom with great characters and some wonderful writing.  It really doesn’t need cameos by Britney Spears, Enrique Iglesias and, in this episode, Regis Philbin, to be hilarious.  The episode revolves around the quest to find a burger place Marshall ate in eight years earlier that served “the best burger in New York” but it just doesn’t have the same sparkle or the heart of other episodes.  The repeating joke of Robin’s burger being the last to arrive isn’t all that amusing, and descriptions of just how good the various burgers taste are only funny for so long.  That said, this is my no means a terrible half hour of television, it just doesn’t live up to the comedy and heart of other episodes.

Lily: This burger is so good, its like Christmas in my mouth. Meat Christmas.
Ted: Its like an angel from heaven landed in
the kitchen of McClaren’s… where the chef killed it and ran it through the meat grinder.
Barney: I love this burger so much I want to sew my ass shut.

Show: Torchwood
Episode: “Cyberwoman”

Ianto's girlfriend Lisa in Cyberwoman

Ianto's girlfriend Lisa in Cyberwoman

Let’s face it, Torchwood didn’t exactly start out as high art.  During the first season the show was campy, tried a little too hard to convince us that it was the darker adult cousin of Doctor Who, and went out of its way to show the fluidity of human sexuality.  It also routinely borrowed and twisted plots from Angel, including having the female lead wake up nine months pregnant by a demon/alien and using an alien/demon who stays alive through sexual intercourse that destroys their partner.

Still, the first season had some good episodes, it’s just that “Cyberwoman” was not one of them.  The first episode focused on mysterious tea boy Ianto Jones revealed that he had been keeping his girlfriend Lisa, partially converted during the Cyberman Invasion (which occurred during the Doctor Who episodes “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday”), in the Torchwood Hub basement in hopes of curing her.  Her Cyberman programming soon takes over though and Captain Jack tries to feed her to the resident pterodactyl.  Really the fact that Jack sprays Lisa with special barbeque sauce to help the pterodactyl identify its prey speaks for itself.

Show: Star Trek Voyager
Episode: “Threshold”

Janeway and Paris go through some... changes in "Threshold"

Janeway and Paris go through some... changes in "Threshold"

Not even the writers defend this episode of Star Trek Voyager, which co-executive producer Brannon Braga called a “royal, steaming stinker”.  It has even been unofficially erased from canon by fans and the production staff.

In “Threshold”, Tom Paris takes on a mission to break the Warp 10 barrier in a shuttlecraft.  However he begins experiencing symptoms upon his return and rapidly mutates into a new form of life.  Paris escapes his planned treatment, kidnaps Captain Janeway, and steals the shuttlecraft.  Here’s where we get to the bad part because the cast of Voyager track the shuttle only to find two amphibious creatures and their three offspring(!)  Luckily there is enough human DNA remaining for the ships’ Doctor to reverse the mutation and restore them to normal.  Lizard mating?  This is another one that speaks for itself.

Show: Dead Like Me
Episode: Dead Like Me: Life After Death movie

George faces off against new leader Cameron.

George faces off against new leader Cameron.

I absolutely love Dead Like Me and it is certainly at the top of my “gone but not forgotten” list of shows cancelled before their time.  The show, which followed the unlife of Georgia Lass after she is hit by a flying toilet seat and becomes a grim reaper, was full of colour, thoughtful, and found the humour in death to great success.  Its cancellation after just two seasons, and for no apparent reason, was disappointing but fans found hope in the news that there would be a direct-to-DVD movie.

I’m glad I read the reviews about the film before watching it or I would have been sorely disappointed.  It isn’t that the movie is bad, so much as it just isn’t the Dead Like Me we knew and loved.  The role of Daisy Adair was recast, as Laura Harris was committed to another project, and replacement Sarah Wynter always felt “off” to me.  At that time Mandy Patinkin was starring in Criminal Minds and his lead reaper Rube Sofer was replaced with a new character, played by Lost star Henry Ian Cusick.  I enjoyed the subplot with George’s sister Reggie, which answered the question left open in the show’s series finale about whether or not Reggie had recognized her sister in the graveyard, but the movie just didn’t have the same feel as the series.  The real pity is that Harris’ show Woman’s Murder Club was cancelled that year and Patinkin famously departed Criminal Minds.  If the movie had been delayed, the whole cast could have reunited.

And one for the road…

Although I’ve seen most of Star Trek: The Next Generation, DS9, and Voyager, I haven’t seen more than one episode of the original series and don’t have a strong desire to do so.  I haven’t included episodes generally regarded to be poor unless I have seen them myself but this is my one exception to the rule.  “Spock’s Brain” seems to have the same universal loathing in fans of the original series that “Beer Bad” inspires in Buffy fans.  The synopsis seems to be that aliens steal Spock’s brain and that the episode is, according to this site, “the most sexist hour of television that I’ve ever seen.”

But wait – there’s more!  It’s featured on a website called the agony booth under the “Worst of Trek” title, and a website featuring fan created Star Trek motivational posters has one just for the episode which says the following:

Spock’s Brain

Look, not every episode can be “City on the Edge of Forever,” okay?

I’m sure my list will continue to grow as I discover new shows and as my favourites misstep but these are my “worst of the best” so far.  I’d love to hear other ideas though, feel free to let me know some of your “worst of the best” television episodes!

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 and, 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.

Game of Thrones casts Sean Bean

July 23, 2009

asoiaf11A few years ago, while browsing a bookstore in Toronto together, a friend recommended George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.  It was summer, I was looking for something to read, and we had similar tastes in fantasy and science-fiction, so I bought the first novel, titled A Game of Thrones, on the spot.  I quickly fell in love with the rich world that Martin had created, full of unexpected plot twists and morally ambiguous characters.  The four published books of a planned seven novel series are some of the best I have ever read, and Martin has become one of my favourite authors.

‘Ice and Fire’ is set in a fictional world that resembles medieval Europe but has extended seasons, meaning summers can last a decade.  Martin has said that he was influenced by the English Wars of the Roses but that “there’s really no one-for-one character-for-character correspondence”.  The series revolves around the seven noble houses of Westeros, particularly Houses Stark and Lannister, and the struggle for power over the Seven Kingdoms.

When Martin announced on his livejournal, titled Not a Blog, that HBO had optioned the rights to turn the books into a series it was great news for fans, but optioning the rights does not always mean that a film or television show will ever be created.  So when James Hibberd, a senior writer at The Hollywood Reporter, announced on his blog that HBO had green lit a pilot for the series, I was ecstatic.  As he noted, high fantasy is a popular enough genre for film, but has not been tackled on television before, despite the recent increase in science-fiction and genre-themed programing.  But if anyone can do it, it’s HBO, who have worked with expansive period pieces before in Rome, Deadwood and Carnivale.

Peter Dinklage will play Tyrion Lannister

Peter Dinklage will play Tyrion Lannister

The involvement of HBO is a good sign for fans who hope that the more adult content involved in the series won’t be watered down or cut completely.  Additionally, a television series consisting of a speculated 10 to 12 episodes per season, is more likely to remain faithful to the lengthy books, which average 1000 pages each.  The series itself has been named after the first novel, A Game of Thrones.

Even before the pilot was ordered, fans had begun compiling lists and discussing which actors would appear in their ideal casts.  Who should bring the honourable but cold Eddard Stark to life on screen, and which actress had the ability to transform from a meek girl to a powerful young woman, as Daenerys Targaryen does over the course of Martin’s novels.  The characters in ‘Ice and Fire’ are so complicated, and in many cases so young, that even with great writing and special effects the casting will likely make or break the series.

So when it was announced in May that the first actor cast was Peter Dinklage (Death at a Funeral), who was not only the fans’ choice, but also Martin’s pick to play the role of Tyrion Lannister, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  Other bits of information were slowly released as well, including the name of the pilot’s director, Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) and that filming would be conducted in Northern Ireland in October.

Sean Bean will play Ned Stark

Sean Bean will play Ned Stark

Through casting sides and a leaked early script, fans have had the chance to see how scriptwriters have adapted the first novel into a workable pilot, but there were no further casting announcements until this Monday, when the rumour that Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) had signed on to play Ned Stark was confirmed.  Both a fan favourite for the role and a terrific actor,  Bean is a fantastic addition to the cast.  Adding a ‘name’ actor like Bean to the project also gives it credibility and perhaps will draw in fans of the actor who might not have watched otherwise.  On a personal note, I’ve long thought that Sean Bean deserved more leading roles.

Although news of Bean’s role was the biggest and best piece of casting information for the series, sources including Martin himself reported that Mark Addy had been chosen to play King Robert Baratheon I, an old friend of Ned’s and the ruler of the realm.  Fans who remembered him for his comedic turns in A Knight’s Tale and Still Standing were apprehensive about the news, but Martin’s wife Parris reassured fans that they had both seen his audition tape and “liked him immediately.”

Mark Addy will play King Robert Baratheon I

Mark Addy will play King Robert Baratheon I

For many fans, the casting of Harry Lloyd to play Daenerys’ brother Viserys Targaryen meant very little.  But for those who remembered him as Baines from the brilliant Doctor Who episodes “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood”, he was an inspired choice.  I’ve included a video clip at the end of this post of his role in the episode.  The actor, who also played Will Scarlett in the BBC drama Robin Hood is able to pull off the taint of madness that is often a Targaryen trait and I expect he’ll be a fantastic Beggar King.

The casting of lesser known actors to play two of the many younger roles in the series was expected and encouraged by fans.  Jack Gleeson (Batman Begins) was announced as the Crown Prince Joffrey Baratheon, while stage actor Kit Harrington has been cast as Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard son.  Harrington certainly has the look for the role, and George R.R. Martin commented in his blog, “You probably haven’t heard of him yet… but you will, we’re confident. [writers/producers] David and Dan can’t say enough about his talent and intensity.”

Kit Harrington will play Jon Snow

Kit Harrington will play Jon Snow

There is still a great deal of casting to be done, including the pivotal roles of twins Jaime and Cersei Lannister, Ned’s wife Catelyn Stark, Council treasurer Petyr Baelish, and exiled Princess Daenerys Targaryen.  Martin recently wrote that casting has already taken place in New York, Los Angeles, London, Dublin, and most recently Australia, in order to find the right actors for the roles.  So far the casting process is off to a great start.  As some have pointed out, the calibre of actors already cast is a good sign that HBO will order a full first season of Game of Thrones and give it a try.  I really hope they’re right, because at this point I’m hugely excited about seeing a visual adaptation of such a fantastic series of novels.

One worry that has come to mind though is the fear that Martin may not finish all his novels before the television series (if it is picked up and renewed each year) catches up to him.  When planned fourth novel A Dance With Dragons became too long to print in one volume, Martin opted to split the book into two parts, dividing the limited third person character viewpoints by their geographical location.  This meant that characters from the South of the Seven Kingdoms were featured in the first part of the book, published as A Feast For Crows, while other characters will reappear in the forthcoming fifth book.  When A Feast for Crows was released in October 2005, it went straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and led to the Time calling Martin “the American Tolkein.”  Although it was hoped that A Dance With Dragons would be published the following year, it is now more than three years later and the book remains unfinished.

While the wait for the fifth book is a difficult one, the continuing casting news updates for Game of Thrones are filling the void admirably and I hope that more news will be announced soon.  If you’d like to keep updated on the HBO series, the excellent blog Winter Is Coming was the first to post the rumour that Bean had been cast and is always quick to update when new information is released.  If you haven’t read the novels but are planning to, or if you would like to avoid spoiling the plot of the television series for yourself, be careful when reading the blog entry comments, as many assume anyone on the site has already read the novels and they may contain plot and character details.

Harry Lloyd in Doctor Who:

San Diego Comic-Con for the TV enthusiast

July 11, 2009

In response to an article on the ever-expanding Comic-Con, one fan wrote, “If anything needs to be changed about the San Diego Comic-Con, it’s the name.  The way it’s been and the way it is now, it should really be called the San Diego Pop-Culture-Con.”  It’s an accurate assessment, as Comic-Con International has expanded in both size and content from its modest origins.  The first convention, held in 1970 at the U.S. Grant Hotel, drew only 300 people.  Last year’s Comic-Con boasted a record 126,000 attendees.

This increase is not without resentment, with some comic book fans unhappy about what the convention has become, and the over-crowded San Diego Convention Center resulting in a wait of two or more hours to secure a place at some of the more popular panels.  Yet despite the lines and the crowds, genre fans are eager to flock to Southern California between July 23rd and 26th for glimpses at exclusive television or movie clips, a chance to see their acting, writing, or comic book idols, and to soak up the atmosphere of thousands of equally excited fans.

Although I don’t read a large number of comic book titles, I do enjoy and respect the comics world.  I regularly read Runaways and I’ve enjoyed titles like Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and the classic Watchmen.  Still, I have to admit that my main interest in Comic-Con is television.  A number of recent articles have discussed the increasing presence of television at Comic-Con.  Warner Brothers is bringing a studio-record 11 shows to the convention and while some premiering shows, like the alien invasion remake V, or the CW’s teen drama The Vampire Diaries, have a clear connection to genre, the link to science-fiction and/or fantasy in other shows is increasingly tenuous.

Comic-Con is now used as a test ground for new pilots, a marketing experiment to see how a television product will be received.  Networks air exclusive clips of returning shows and choose to debut pilots at the event to create buzz.  After-all, what better promotion could there be than a pop-culture phenomenon which has already sold out all 4-day and single-day membership passes for this year’s event?

Marking its 40th convention this year, San Diego Comic-Con is expanding its content.  Last year CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory made its Comic-Con debut.  With its inclusion of comic book references and discussions of science fiction and fantasy, the show fit nicely into the event.  However, this year the door has opened for panels on shows with considerably less genre appeal.  USA’s spy comedy-drama Burn Notice will be a presence this year along with Fox’s procedural Bones and, perhaps the oddest pick of all, new sitcom The Middle, staring Patrica Heaton as a middle class mother of three.  If this sounds like a stretch it’s because it is.

Certainly there’s enough genre-related content out there to wet the palettes of the TV enthusiasts at Comic-Con even without the inclusion of these odd picks, but I can think of a number of people who aren’t about to argue with a chance to see David Boreanaz on a panel and yes, even though one of these things is not like the others, I’m interested in hearing about the panel for Fox’s eagerly anticipated Glee.

This TV enthusiast hasn’t yet made it to Comic-Con, although it does have a high place on my as yet unwritten list of things to experience before I die, but I’ll be hoping for youtube footage or some illuminating tweets on the more interesting panels.  Bound to be popular this year are the Doctor Who panel, with departing creator and head writer Russell T. Davies and David Tennant, in his first appearance at Comic-Con, and the Dollhouse panel, with Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku presenting the unaired episode “Epitaph One” for the first time.

If you don’t fancy waiting in line or have some time between panels, Comic-Con also offers a floorspace for exhibitors, an autograph area, and the convention staple Artist’s Alley, where comics artists sign autographs and sell sketches.

If you’re a TV enthusiast lucky enough to attend, or just want to know what you’ll be missing, here’s a look at some of the Television events announced for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Comic-Con 2009:

Wednesday, July 22nd

Between 6:00 and 9:00 PM, Comic-Con offers a special preview night for attendees who have purchased 4-day passes.  Warner Bros.  will present the pilots of three new series for the 2009-10 Television season – Human Target, V, and The Vampire Diaries.

Human Target is a midseason replacement show based on a DC comics title. It stars Mark Valley (Fringe), as a private contractor who takes on cover identities in order to protect his clients,  Chi McBride (Pushing Daisies), and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen).

V, staring Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) and Morena Baccarin (Serenity) is a remake of the 1983 miniseries about alien contact.

The Vampire Diaries, based on the book series by L.J. Smith, is a drama about two vampire brothers, one good and one evil, at war over a human girl.  Paul Wesley (Everwood) and Ian Somerhalder (Lost) play the brothers while Nina Dobrev (Degrassi: The Next Generation) plays the girl, named Elena.

Thursday, July 23rd

Fans of the short-lived ABC Family series The Middleman won’t want to miss it’s cast reunion and lost episode table read (11:15-12:15, Room 6A), featuring creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and the complete cast.  In the same room ,actor/author Richard Hatch joins special guests for a “review,  discussion, and Q&A” of Battlestar Galactica‘s past four seasons including its controversial ending (12:30-1:30, Room 6A).

If you prefer your television a little lighter, there’s USA network’s Psych panel featuring stars James Roday (Shawn) and Dule Hill (Gus) along with other cast and creative team members.  The panel will feature new outtakes, a season four preview, and a video diary segment (1:15-2:15, Ballroom 20).  If you’re also a fan of Burn Notice, remain in the room for a panel with stories from the writers’ room, an exclusive look at upcoming season three episodes, and tips on surviving Comic-Con from Michael Westen.

If you’d prefer to take a look at the technical side of things, head over to the Costume Designers: Designing for Television Production panel with costume designers from Dollhouse, Lost, True Blood, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2:00-3:00, Room 32AB), before bringing your questions to ask J. Michael Straczynski about professional writing in movies, television, comics and print (3:30-4:30, Room 7AB).

Perhaps the most interesting panel promises to be Entertainment Weekly’s Wonder Women: Female Power Icons in Pop Culture.  The description says, “EW will moderate a conversation with Sigourney Weaver (Avatar), Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), Kristin Bell (Veronica Mars) and other stars about the actresses who have redefined the rules and the female characters that have shattered the glass ceiling for all women. Basically: a discussion with women who kick ass” (3:45-4:45, Ballroom 20).

If you’re interested in the industry, there’s The Pitching Hour, demonstrating the process of taking an idea from conception to production. This includes creating a pitch document, obtaining an agent, and getting a pitch meeting. There will also be a Q&A for the audience to ask any questions about obstacles they may encounter (5:00-6:00, Room 2). To learn more about the science behind the great sci-fi head to Mad Science: The Science Behind Science Fiction for an exploration of science as a product of who wields it. Included are writers from Eureka, Dollhouse, and Fringe to discuss science used for good and evil (6:00-7:00, Room 6DE).

Meanwhile, if you’d prefer more television, Comic-Con offers a panel on the action-adventure series Legend of the Seeker , which is based on Terry Goodkind’s fantasy series The Sword of Truth., in the form of a Q&A with a few executive producers and cast members (4:45-5:45, Room 6DE).  Or head over to Ballroom 20, where Showtime presents a Dexter panel with Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Julie Benz (Rita), Jennifer Carpenter (Deb) and series executive producers, featuring clips from the upcoming fourth season (5:00-6:00 ).

For a more academic panel there’s The Anthropology of Star Trek, with students discussing the anthropological themes in Star Trek (6:30-7:30, Room 30AB), or spend the evening singing along to the California Browncoats’ screening of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, followed by Commentary! The Musical (8:00-10:00, Room 6A).  Finally, finish your day with an animation fix, courtesy of the Green Lantern: First Flight world premiere.  The voice cast includes such television talents as Victor Garber (Eli Stone), and Christopher Meloni (Law and Order:SVU) (8:00-9:30, Ballroom 20).

Coming up: Comic-Con for the TV enthusiast schedules for Friday and Saturday.

Comic-Con International takes place at the San Diego Convention Center July 23rd-26th.

Cast your vote for the greatest TV characters

July 10, 2009

Between the reruns and reality of summer television, and the buzz over possible Emmy nominees, creating lists and polls have been popular ways to pass the time for my fellow TV enthusiasts. I’ve already covered the most cathartic of these online awards, Television Without Pity’s Tubeys, which give fans the chance to have their say about the “best, worst and just plain insane from the 2008-09 TV season”, but if you’re still itching to exercise those voting fingers is giving you the opportunity to decide who are the best TV characters of the past decade.

The poll has only a few rules regarding eligibility, which are as follows; A show may have premiered in the eighties or nineties but the majority of its run had to occur after January 2000, and any nominated characters must have been on the show semi-regularly during the last ten years. If you disagree with the choices offered or believe a character was unfairly overlooked you can comment after the poll.

Like the Tubeys, Zap2it is dividing its choices into categories, which will change each week.  Until Monday, TV enthusiasts have the chance to vote for the best TV character in the following categories; mom, dad, brother, sister, son/daughter, couple, boss, co-worker, underling, and reality personality.  Is Veronica Mars‘ Keith the best TV dad?  Is Simon Cowell the best reality personality?  The decision, unlike the Emmy nominations,  is yours.

Cast your vote here.