Welcome to a new feature here on TV For The Rest of Us, the TVFTROU mail bag. Got a topic or a question you want to discuss? This is the place to do it. Since this is the first column, the inbox currently is a bit empty. So, here’s my thoughts on a few shows that NBC has started airing recently (since they’ve gotten a head start over everyone else) and I’m answering a couple burning questions submitted by…me.
The NBC Head Start – Grimm and Go On
Granted I’m anywhere from a few days to a week behind with viewing (late August is a very busy time in my household) but I think NBC’s strategy of premiering Grimm early is nothing short of brilliant. If this show was lost in the rest of the TV fall premiere landscape, on a Friday nonetheless, I’m certain it would not have stood out. I’m one of those that NBC has successfully pulled into season two without having the benefit of watching season one. Given the light summer fare though right now and the fact that my Friday viewing has suddenly lightened up come this fall, Grimm” now has secured a strong place in my regular viewing.
I’ve noticed from the first two episodes the show strives to work in action sequences as well as the fantasy/horror elements. I don’t think lead actor David Guintoli (Nick) is the best for fight scenes, but that impression could be from the side by side comparison with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who fights like a Ninja. There’s something about Nick I like though. He seems like an ordinary guy suddenly pushed into these extraordinary circumstances, and with one whole season under his belt, he’s still struggling to pull it all together. But hey, that’s understandable when your girlfriend is sleeping beauty and your best friends are monsters your ancestors (and mother) would rather kill. Two episodes though is hardly a chance to get familiar with the characters and know the depth behind them, but I saw more with one glance of Mastrontonio’s brooding dark eyes than I did from watching the whole rest of the cast for two hours. That chick is dark.
I don’t have a lot of commentary on what I’ve seen so far. It’s always nice when digging into a Sci-Fi show for the first time to take on the role of casual observer trying to catch up with what’s going on as opposed to doing a deep, critical analysis. I really wish I could offer more intelligent thoughts about Grimm, but as for right now the blend of mystery, fantasy, action, and drama all in the gorgeous backdrop of Portland, Oregon (more shows should be filmed there) is enough to keep my interest . Perhaps I’ll have more insightful thoughts as my familiarity with the show continues.
Since we’re on the topic of NBC and the early premiere of some shows, I did watch the pilot to Go On that they aired a few weeks ago after the Olympics. Personally, I loved every bit of it. This is how you do ensemble comedy with a strong lead character to center the story. It felt intelligent to me, which is exactly why I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms. Ever wonder why shows like The Big Bang Theory are a big hit? Smart can be funny. I found the bracket tournament of who has the greatest story of woe to be hilarious. I’m also excited to see the kid from Everybody Hates Chris has grown up and is back on TV! I like his character on this one, but then again I like all the characters.
I thought I would read a few critical reviews of Go On to see what the general reception was to this show, and I was surprised to find a lot of slams against it. A few thought it was a ripoff of Community or wasn’t very original. Others thought the concept was lame. NBC has this dilemma where they have good, critically acclaimed comedies on their network, but they aren’t finding large audiences. In other words, the ratings suck. As for me personally, I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms. I don’t have a lot of time for TV and the shows I watch are usually the one hour Sci-Fi dramas (Or House Hunters. I love House Hunters). I’ve seen The Office in off network repeats, and the show is just too awkward for my tastes. It has its moments, but it’s not appointment viewing. I’ve also tried Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, and the reaction is the same. It has it’s moments, but there’s something about those shows that don’t resonate fully with me. They’re smart shows for sure and I appreciate that, but there’s something in the appeal that’s just off for me. They’re not shows I feel like I want to watch all the time. Given the ratings of these shows, evidence proves I’m not alone.
As for Go On, I think NBC has done pretty good here. The network does need to try for broader audiences and by making the characters relatable, they’re doing that. I’m sorry, but Tracy Morgan’s character in 30 Rock turns me off. Granted, this show could really tank after the pilot, but NBC has at least given me something to come back for another try. That’s more than what they’ve done in the past. If NBC wants to show something outside of their current critical fare, I say go for it. This network has nothing to lose at this point, plus I’ve always been a fan of Matthew Perry.
Now for the questions.
Dallas has somehow exceeded expectations and proved to be a great and deeply entertaining reboot of an old TV series. This seems to be going against the track record of recent reboots like “Melrose Place,” “The Bionic Woman,” and “Knight Rider,” which have been spectacular failures. Now they want to revive “Fame” and inexplicably, “The Munsters.” What do you think of this revival fever that continues to happen? – Alice, Columbus, Ohio.
I’ve never been a fan of the remake concept in film or TV. I think there’s enough original ideas out there that are getting turned away because networks and studios are skittish. However, reboots any more of old franchise names don’t necessarily mean that it’s the same old show. Often times it doesn’t resemble the original at all. It’s really just a gimmick anymore to get attention, which is a must in today’s very crowded television landscape.
In the case of Dallas, this is an example of a true, blue remake. There is a huge reason why Dallas part 2 has worked. That show’s major theme has been from day one the scars that one generation of the family leaves on the next ones. In the original’s case, it was Jock Ewing and his feud with Digger Barnes. That trickled down to J.R. Ewing and Cliff Barnes, and really exacerbated when younger brother Bobby married Cliff’s sister, Pamela. A series premise was born. Now, there’s a new generation that got their start on the original show and have grown up, aka John Ross and Christopher. They are ready to make their own mark with or without the family legacy’s help. The themes are the same, but the drama is fresh. New characters, new possibilities, yet original characters continuing in the next stage of their lives for familiarity. However, the creators remembered what made the original Dallas great, the scheming and backstabbing while maintain the family honor. It’s better than ever and a huge guilty pleasure. Plus, doesn’t that bombastic opening of the Dallas theme with all the pictures of the city and Southfork look fantastic now in full HD?
What also has helped Dallas is that the reboot happened on a cable channel. I don’t think it would have been successful in today’s network world of Fridays at 10pm. The fact that it runs in uninterrupted and smaller spurts in counter programming to the traditional network schedule does this type of soap genre huge justice. Interest in soaps is fading, especially when so much of that drama plays out anymore on reality TV. TNT has found the magic formula to keep interest in this show, especially through their clever marketing, like running an extremely clever Twitter campaign where fictional characters like J.R. Ewing can tweet about their exploits as if they are real.
As for other reboots, one reason for failure is the exact reason that Dallas hasn’t failed. They didn’t have a fresh concept to continue the story. Yes, Knight Rider had Michael Knight’s son, but the writing and stories on the show basically sucked. Reboots, if marketed as the “next generation”, especially have to be excellent from the word go. All it takes is one viewing for a person to go, “Wow, the original is so much better” and the audience is lost. This is the risk networks take by doing a remake. The argument can be made that these shows are meant for new audiences that weren’t familiar with the original. If that’s true, they why is the network doing a reboot? Usually the ones that tune in first are the ones that remember or have seen the old show.
One current reboot that doesn’t fall in this traditional concept is Nikita. This franchise was continued because The CW wanted a kick ass female show, aka their Alias but for a budget strapped network, it was easier to go to a franchise where one of the parent companies owns the rights. It was made clear right off the bat this wasn’t a remake. It was a continuation of the original, after Nikita has left division, but it would be grittier than the original and have it’s own twists.
Nikita has gone on to be a really good, quality show, but it’s not a huge hit. Network has a lot to do with that, but one reason could be because several of the true faithful to the original movies and USA series La Femme Nikita have found that this new version to not be the concept they remembered. Nikita audiences however still skew much older than the typical audience for The CW. Being a reboot, even one getting a lukewarm reception from the original base, still attracts an older audience who know the concept. That’s another side effect of reboots that networks often fail to grasp.
In The CW’s case, this why Melrose Place fizzled and 90210 remains a small shadow of the original. From what I’ve read (I never watched) Melrose Place failed because the murder mystery didn’t strike interest in the audiences. The viewers were looking for the same trashy soap they remembered from the 90’s. The network rushed into this reboot concept after 90210 got a decent start without really coming up with a good series idea. The reason 90210 lost its spark is because some originals were there to get the series a strong start, but as soon as they left so did the audiences. They weren’t interested in the newer generation. I understand the show has gone through some creative ups and downs as well, but it’s still going into the 5th season, so something must have been done right. It just didn’t become the huge hit the network had hoped. Dallas probably learned from this and knew a reboot wouldn’t work without original characters on board for the duration.
What about Hawaii Five-0? That’s been a success. True, but this isn’t a true remake. It’s a new universe and the new characters have no relation to the old ones. Other than having the last name of “McGarrett” and using the same bouncy opening theme song and montage, the only other similarity is it’s a cop show based in Hawaii. This show has succeeded because it’s a CBS procedural in a prime slot, following their number one comedy slate, and the characters are actually interesting. The stories and the writing hasn’t been the strongest, but it has gotten better in the second season. Plus, there’s plenty of eye candy. Good looking cops driving around picturesque Hawaii in a Camaro? That’s exactly why Magnum PI lasted as long as it did.
Revivals just seem to be a major part of the culture in Hollywood anymore, and in most cases the name is just used to get attention for what is in a sense a whole new show. That works great if your show is good, but if it sucks, it’s not the fact that it was a poorly conceived remake. It was a poorly conceived show.
Tim Goodman (aka The Bastard Machine) of The Hollywood Reporter recently had some very harsh commentary about The CW after their presentation at the TCAs. He’s wondering how this network is still in business. Considering your very positive view of that presentation, what do you think of the criticism? AJ - the um, central part of the Buckeye State.
The words from Tim Goodman in this article indicate that he doesn’t watch The CW nor is familiar with any of its programs. He’s going off of beliefs and stereotypes branded by people who are not remotely close to the network’s core demographic. As a result, his bitter tone comes across as an old school TV bean counter who isn’t impressed because of traditional ratings are low (an issue raised in the panel) and the fact that the network loses money, even though the parent companies make those losses back easily and plenty more on the shows through various revenue sources like international syndication and online streaming.
Even an average viewer of The CW can tell that the business model for the network is shaky. The network basically exists so the parent companies can make money producing TV shows. It’s a model that’s trying to embrace the current changes of viewing habits. Yes, a youth oriented network is going to hit these problems faster than traditional networks. But the big four are seeing ratings drops too and more people watching online and with DVRs. They too are trying to come up with ways to monetize that shift. They too haven’t been successful yet.
Look at NBC. The only thing saving them right now from the ratings basement is NFL. It is true, live sports is becoming the new way to guarantee a live audience, but the CW cannot afford to get into live sports viewing. It’s extremely expensive. NBC, much like The CW, is pushing online viewing more just to generate some kind of buzz for their shows, even launching a campaign recently previewing all their new fall shows online. Fox and ABC too share all their shows both online and through Hulu, their joint venture with NBC.
The CW was the first to embrace this online concept. It was revealed in the spring that 30% of their viewers watch online now. Shows like Hart of Dixie were picked up for another season because of their online popularity, not the marginal live ratings. One of the lowest rated shows on the network is Nikita, which was relegated to Friday nights (and is not what Mr. Goodman claims to be cheesy, at best guilty pleasure. Perhaps he should watch it sometime). Why was Nikita renewed with such low ratings? It’s a good money maker from international syndication because of its popularity abroad. No matter how many times pundits tell you international revenue doesn’t matter for renewal, with low budget shows on The CW, it most certainly does. The parent companies, in this case Warner Brothers, have to make up their losses with the network and cost of production somewhere. Turns out they do way more than that.
Mr. Goodman raised the question, how does The CW still have its lights on? One great reason, affiliate agreements are for ten years. There’s a few years left in those agreements. What happens when they expire? It’s hard to say, for contentment of the affiliates is varied. Several are concerned about the new online push lowering their ratings. Big affiliates like WGN have removed their CW branding on their logos, even though they continue to air CW shows. That battle will likely play out when it’s time to negotiate new agreements in 2015. In the meantime, many affiliates don’t have the resources to pay for other programming to fill the void The CW would leave behind.
Sure, there are creative ways to break affiliate agreements, like MyNetworkTV did when they changed themselves from a network to a syndication service. However, The CW has too much original programming in place to do this, plus it breaks the business model of CBS and Warner Brothers of having an outlet to air these smaller shows that can make them long term revenue and build their catalogs. In other words, they want to keep having low budget shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer pay off for years after they’ve gone off the air. Also, as CBS and Warner Brothers found out when they merged their WB and UPN networks in 2006, breaking affiliate agreements is expensive.
The CW, and particularly Warner Brothers, know the importance of catering to cult audiences. These aren’t the audiences that watch live. These viewers watch these shows in batches, knocking out a string of episodes or even whole seasons through DVD and online viewing in one sitting. The biggest priority of The CW and its parent companies is to meet the constant on and off viewing demand for their product. If viewers can’t watch live, they must offer alternative viewing, often for years to come. It’s good business, and it’s profitable too. That buzz and popularity do translate to more money in the long term, especially now that there are lucrative online syndication deals on the table. Building that buzz early in a show assures longevity and more episodes to be made. The more episodes, more product to sell on the open market at a higher price. There’s a big demand overseas now, and it always adds up to way more than anyone realizes. Don’t believe that? Try to explain how a show like Supernatural is in its 8th season even though it’s never been a huge ratings success.
But yes, there are still those that stick with that shallow “What have you done for me lately?”, judging a network viability purely on ratings. I can see where patience is lost with The CW if those are the expectations. One question Mr. Goodman raised was, “Is the CW giving it’s viewers what they want?” He brought up that if specials on The Muppets and The Batmobile do so well, why can’t the regular shows? Considering the season or series premieres of the regular series usually do well on The CW, I’d say big one time events is a draw. This is true on all the networks. Plus, these shows weren’t airing against heavy competition.
The problem is when your regular, smaller secular shows are competing with four other networks, week to week competition is not be feasible. Note that again, this is a problem other networks are experiencing, just to a much lesser extent (especially older skewing CBS). Also, since The CW is offering shows online (by demand) that takes away the urgency to watch live. However, if the shows aren’t watched live, they might not get watched at any predictable time since the competition is fierce not only with other networks but cable as well. We all are suffering from bloated DVRs. It’s not a perfect system, and the success of a CW show often cannot be measured in terms of immediate payback. That’s just too hard for traditionalists to swallow.
Instead of trying to expand the analysis into this territory, Mr. Goodman instead based a lot of his article on taking a few of Mark Pedowitz’s words and twisting them to seem like confusing doublespeak. Granted Mr. Pedowitz could have offset some of the criticism by giving more detailed answers, but there’s only so much time in the day and critics often times find ways to twist those words too. So just remember, there are two sides of every argument. It’s too bad Mr. Goodman’s jaded view didn’t remember that balance.
That’s all for now! Got any questions for the mailbag? Submit them in the comments below, and I’ll give them a stab for next time. Or I can continue this awkward one side conversation with me, myself, and I. We’re a happening group!