Sunday, May 11, 2014

TV: The feedback, the fallout, the failures

"You deliberately pimped Nashville to get it a second season!" was one reaction to our "TV: Black Box illustrates ABC's big problem" from last week. Another was:  "Clever girls, basically blackmailing ABC execs into renewing Nashville by springing a trap on them where if they cancel it they're admitting it's a flop and you've already made the case that the flop was ABC's promotion of the show."  One complained about "TV: Bad Sitcom" from two weeks ago and specifically about this line: " But the mild scripts did nothing for us and if eye candy could keep a series alive all on its own, Fox would have already renewed Almost Human."

"I hope you get," the complainer hissed, "that when you wrote that line you signed the death sentence for Almost Human."


"Well, Ava and C.I.," our readers say, "e-mails come with the territory."

No doubt they do.

But the above aren't from e-mails.  They were phone calls and a face-to-face.

The first is from a friend who worked on Believe, the second is from a friend who worked on Intelligence and the third from a friend who worked on Almost Human.

Those were not the only ones complaining.  Nor do we believe the complaining will cease with this new week.

Reality, the networks dicked a lot of people around this go round.

Execs -- including one at ABC who does feel we attempted to paint the network into a corner with regards to Nashville -- insisted to us that it seemed like a nonstop lottery of cancellations because they were doing everything they could to try to find a way to keep the shows that got cancelled -- all the shows, except of course Bad Teacher.  CBS hated that show more than even we did.

And in trying to keep the shows, they went over everything.  They went over budgets, they went over other projects that performers might have coming up which could provide new life to struggling shows, they went over ratings from previous seasons, they went over coverage in old media and new media.

"You just don't get," a VP of programming told us, "how hard we worked on this."

Actually, what we got was that this spring the suits finally did the work they were too lazy to do in past seasons when they cancelled on whims.

Cancelled and renewed on whims, countered a programming exec at Fox.

Well touche.

If the writers for the failed and cancelled sitcom Dads had thought up comebacks even half as quickly, the show might still be on.

And while we applaud them for doing their job and working until the last minute (to be clear, they worked until the last minute, they did not wait until the last minute to start working). as one show after another got the axe, the mood in the entertainment community continued to drop.

One sitcom show runner (whose show was renewed) told us, "It was like being in the office where no one won the Superbowl pool."

Repeating, his show got renewed.

The dragged out process that suddenly picked up as ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC all went Lizzie Borden on us felt like an assault to so many.

An actress whose hour long show got canned told us her first thought was how so many just lost their jobs -- "Make up, hair, the crew, the crafts . . ."

As friends stumbled around shell shocked, a number, especially those at NBC (whose shows survived or whose shows were cancelled) seemed to zero in on one series.


How, pray tell, did the depressed and depressing show that makes The Killing look like John Huston's Annie manage to survive?

Sometimes, the best thing that can happen for a series is to get the axe.  Certainly, the alternative, an unworthy show continuing, can actually lead to examination.

Hannibal has no redeeming values.  It's a snuff show.

Years ago, hosting Saturday Night Live, Matt Damon spoofed a Hannibal show that wound up on The WB and was based on Hannibal's college years.  That show would have been an improvement over NBC's pile of s**t which stars failed film actor Hugh Dancy and -- start saving your pennies now -- future trick Mads Mikkelsen.  Between the two of them, they manage to suggest two emotions: Dazed and bored.

The latter is what most viewers have felt watching this crap. Which is why the initial audience for the first episode fled.  The second season saw further erosion.

There's a lie being pimped by The Water Cooler Set that Dracula did a little bit better in the Friday time slot for its ten episodes, a little bit better than the second season of Hannibal has done in the same time slot.


Dracula did a lot better.

Dracula was a new show that had to find an audience.

And it had to do so on a Friday night.

We're not slamming NBC for putting the show on that night.  Friday has to be programmed.  (We also believe Saturday needs to as well -- part of the erosion in viewers the networks face currently is due to their failure to program wisely and, yes, regularly.)

Dracula did significantly better than second season Hannibal in the ratings.

Its lowest rated episode was 2.4 million people and its second lowest was 2.78 million.  Hannibal's lowest (so far) is 2.18 and second lowest is 2.25.

Hannibal is in season two.  Posting those kind of numbers in your second season is proof that you'll never be a hit.

But how some do try to fool themselves.

Take Sady Doyle.  Last March, Elaine called out the media critic for In These Times after Doyle not only praised the crappy show but tried to pass it off as a feminist show.

We generally like Doyle's writing and observations but this one was appalling and we had to walk away until we could calm down.  We're still not to that point all these weeks later.

For Doyle to praise a show with no lead female character as 'feminist'?  For her to praise a show on NBC as 'feminist' during the same season when not one new series on NBC revolved around a female lead character?  For her to praise as 'feminist' a show that says nothing about women?

Thank you, Sade, for lowering the bar for the networks and making our jobs that much harder.

It was stupidity.

We don't know who got Sade's panties wet but, as Ann would put it, "Stop thinking with your clit. You're embarrassing us all."

This season of the 'classy' show, Hannibal's distinguished itself by featuring such 'wonderful' scenes as Hannibal removing body parts from a man who continued to live and then forcing the man to eat the 'meat' from those body parts, informing him he can eat himself or he can die.

This is the level in the gutter the show sinks to.

It debases our culture, it debases us all.

It isn't entertainment, it's gore.  It's a snuff show.

It's stylized and glamorized violence.

We embrace art.  That's art that succeeds.  That's art that fails but tries.  That's art that puzzles.

Hannibal isn't art.  It has no redeeming quality.

It's porn.

And we didn't call for it to be censored when we reviewed it last year.  We knew the ratings and (wrongly) assumed it would get the axe.  As we pointed out, the bomb that was Prime Suspect got better numbers in Hannibal's slot.

Now it's gotten even worse ratings in the second season.

This is a show that drags everyone through the gutter.

And, thankfully, most in the country have rejected it.

But NBC elects to renew it.

3.61 million.  What's that?

The lowest rated episode of the series Crisis.  The lowest episode (thus far) of Crisis still beat the highest rated episode of Hannibal this season (thus far) but NBC cancelled Crisis last week.  (Crisis and Hannibal both still have episodes NBC plans to air.)

4.25 is the lowest rated episode of Believe so far.  And last week?  NBC cancelled Believe.

'That's not fair,' someone whines.  'Those are Sunday shows.'

Fine, let's look at Grimm.  It's ratings are usually double those of Hannibal (at least double) and Grimm airs on Friday nights and on NBC as well.  It airs right before Hannibal, in fact.  Let's look at May 2nd. 4.93 million viewers tuned in for Grimm.  How many stayed for the next show?  Not many.  Hannibal had significant erosion from the lead-in.  2.28 million people watched the May 2nd episode of Hannibal.  You can do that with any week.  Grimm delivers an audience and then this audience runs like crazy to avoid Hannibal.

The show no one was watching should have gotten the axe.  What's going to happen now is you're going to see vocalized hatred of the show as people start noticing that NBC killed off a lot of programs that delivered while keeping the vile and disgusting Hannibal around for another low rated season.

We're dealing with a lot of anger ourselves.

And we'll listen to various friends vent.  We won't correct them or disagree.  They'll vent and we'll say, "I'm sorry you feel that way."

On the phone and face-to-face, that's what we'll do.

But here?

We're not the reason Almost Human got cancelled.  When Fox aired the series out of order, that guaranteed the show would be cancelled.

Believe?  The lead character is played by a 10-year-old and we don't critique (positively or negatively) child actors.  So how the hell were we going to manage to review that show?

Intelligence?  We were being kind by ignoring it.

Trust us, no one with that show would have liked what we would have written.

Mixology?  Trophy Wife?  Back in the Game?

The ABC sitcoms were largely known for being mild.  Not funny.  You can toss in CBS'  The Crazy Ones as well.

The ABC trio?

Dull as dishwater.  Badly acted.

See, acting in a sitcom?

It needs to be funny.

The wrong tone and the joke is lost.  Even more important is timing.  Tina Fey doesn't have it (as the live episodes proved) so 30 Rock attempted to create the timing via editing.  And 30 Rock was the lowest rated long running sitcom NBC had.

Meaning that little 'fix' didn't fix a damn thing.

The writing on The Crazy Ones got better.  The acting did not.  The cast desperately need the lift and energy a studio audience would have provided.

Friends With Better Lives we would have renewed.  With the exception of Zoe Lister-Jones, the cast was pretty bad in the first episode.  James Van Der Beek used his own awkwardness and it ended up adding layers to the character as the series continued.  Rick Donald was so pretty but so bad.  He improved significantly.  Brooklyn Decker and Majandra Delfino began to explore their roles and their moments and Kevin Connolly developed into a sharp and funny actor.

While the ABC shows sunk with each episode, Friends With Better Lives got better with each episode.

That's what happens with a live audience, shows improve.

We've written repeatedly, since the start, that sitcoms need live audiences.

For those who struggle with reality, PBS is currently airing their series Pioneers of Television.

If you caught Bob Newhart, you caught why a studio audience is needed as he discussed his second hit sitcom Newhart:

The writing was better and the actors were better because of the live audience. And the first time we used Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, I said, 'Oh, that's kind of a dangerous work.' And he said, 'It wasn't work. I just enjoy crawling under houses.' And then when they leave, they get another 20 seconds of [applause].  But without a live audience, we wouldn't have known that. Because immediately after the show, I went to the writers and said, 'You know, let's write another script with these guys in it. The audience loved them'."

And another guest spoke about studio audiences on another episode of Pioneers of Television:

People forget that Chaplin, when he did a lot of his movies, was performing in front of people.  That they sometimes would have -- a lot of the silent comedians would have like -- because there was no soundtrack -- they'd have an audience there, they knew where the laughs were.  Or he would take it out as stage productions.  Like the Marx Brothers did all of their movies as stage productions first so they knew where all the laughs were. 

All the Marx Brothers films weren't first stage productions -- only their first two films (The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers).

We have no idea what Chaplin did.

But among the people who forgot?

Robin Williams.

The Crazy Ones needed a studio audience.  Robin needed it to spark off of and it would have helped his co-stars.

We're hoping Robin Williams would agree with that because he's the one who made the Chaplin and Marx Brothers remarks on Pioneers of Television.

And Dick Van Dyke wondered in his segment how people could do sitcoms today without studio audiences and all that they add to the filming?

The clear answer is that they can't.  Modern Family isn't laugh out loud funny.  And a studio audience probably would have prevented the latest embarrassing 'drama' -- Mitch's father can't accept his son marrying a man.  After five seasons, this is where we are?  How embarrassing.  (And apparently we're supposed to forget this was already dealt with in the episode when Jay and his golf buddies bump into Cam whom Jay introduces as a friend of his son's.)  It's so embarrassing and so tired.

And it's always needs a little moral, a little 'you see, Timmy' moment to go out on when a good sitcom goes out on a laugh.  This crappy rip off of the Christopher Guest movies (which are hilarious and never feel the need to moralize) isn't funny.  Nor was The Courtship of Eddie's Father or any of those other bad sitcoms of the 60s.

The sixties rejected the studio audiences of the 50s.  Lucille Ball didn't.  I Love Lucy had a studio audience and so did her two shows of the 60s Here's Lucy and The Lucy Show.  But studio audiences weren't supposed to be 'cool' anymore.  And they could do so much more without them, these idiots just knew.  But it's The Dick Van Dyke Show that never stops airing.

As one comedy after another bites the dust on TV, you'd think everyone would start noticing that the funny ones that the audience will watch?  It's 2 Broke Girls, Mom, The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Mike and Molly -- Hell, even Hollywood Game Night has a studio audience and that's part of what provides the pacing on that show.

The lesson of this season is that the networks are finally realizing there are problems and making serious considerations about what to keep and what to kill.  The bad news is that even in this heightened reality (or what passes for it in the entertainment industry) a flop show like Hannibal is going to be allowed to stink up the airwaves for a third season.  Baby steps, let's remember, baby steps.  Spring 2014, when the network drones finally reached self-awareness.  Let's hope they handle the moment better than Skynet does in The Terminator universe.

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