Sunday, January 16, 2011

TV: Really can't be without you

"There is a pattern emerging with Julia where she deglams herself," explains Dave to Vance. "She's out all day dazzling clients, looking awesome putting on a show for the world but when she gets home, out comes the sweats and the makeup towel. Like the world's getting a 10, I'm kind of getting a 6.5." That's the least of Dave's problems.


His biggest problem? Airing on NBC. This week NBC is debuting two strong shows: Harry's Law during the last hour of Monday prime time and Perfect Couples which airs 30 minutes into the first hour of Thursday prime time. Harry's Law is David E. Kelley's latest show.

As we explained early on, December 2005, "Disclosure, we won't say anything bad about David E. Kelley so there's no point in asking for a review of one of his shows. We wouldn't be impartial and the most extreme criticism we'd ever be comfortable leveling would be that Lara Flynn Boyle should have been kept in the cast of what's emerged from The Practice." So what changed?

Far too many bad hour long programs. Yes, we know David, yes, we love David and, reality, TV needs David. We've high roaded it and then some. We can't do it this time. NBC is giving Kelley six weeks to garner a hit (actually two weeks but official story is six weeks). You need to check the show out immediately. It stars Academy Award winner Kathy Bates. And, yet again, David Kelley is showing you how to do hour long TV -- take notes Jerry Bruckheimer and Dick Wolf. Actual writing, actual characterization and a show that thought went into. Mondays, last hour of prime time. You miss it, blame yourself for the state of TV.

Perfect Couples is not an insta-out-of-the-box hit. Few sitcoms are. That's reality. One of the best sitcoms of the last 15 years is Will & Grace. To watch the first season is to see an amusing sitcom which moves quickly, has promise and nails it with a Halloween episode but offers no classics. Airing on Monday nights as part of a comedy bloc and allowed to find its own voice, the show grew stronger and stronger so that the second season found instant sitcom classics like "Das Boob" (Grace and the water bra), "Home For The Holidays" (to Will, Grace and Karen's shock, Jack's mother has no idea he's gay) and so much more.

Perfect Couple's only real problem right now is finding the rhythm. That could be fixed with one move: tape it before a studio audience.

Are the geeks still calling these one camera 'sitcoms' "edgy"? Strange, if so, since the majority of them have glommed on to Big Bang Theory which is taped before an audience. More importantly, why is NBC trying to ape losers? What were the two highest rated sitcoms since Friends (taped before a studio audience) went off? That's right: Everybody's Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men.

None of the single camera insipids have gotten close. You can think you're cutting edge all you want but, as Bronski Beat, Husker Du, Butthole Surfers, Jesus and Mary Chain and so many others once featured on MTV's 120 Minutes finally realized, there's just not a large enough audience for you. In other words, maybe it's time for NBC to stop pulling it out and measuring it against the other networks and instead give viewers what they want?

Since Will & Grace left the airwaves, NBC has not had one breakout sitcom hit. That's reality. For seven seasons now, they've kept the audience losing program The Office on the air. No one likes The Office but a few geeks who most likely are unable to reproduce and therefore will take their 'taste' to the grave with them doing the country a huge favor. NBC has offered a ton of excuses for their awful programming. At one point, they were insisting that The Office and My Name Is Earl, for example, were not flops, it was just that no one wanted to watch comedy anymore and certainly not on Thursday nights.

It's that kind of stupid that, in fact, leads to programming shows like The Office and My Name Is Earl -- the latter of which was especially effective as a Thursday night colonic cleanser -- flooding viewers over to other networks. But a funny thing happened on the way to spring 2011, CBS moved The Big Bang Theory to Thursday nights. It is already garnering six million more, six million more, viewers each week than The Office pulled in last year.

It's not that people don't want comedy, it's that they do want comedy. And 'whimsical' one-camera shows just aren't cutting it. Which one of these half-hour programs has broken the top ten for the season? How about for the week?

So how about the execs start listening to the viewers and grasp that people like the sitcom format Desi and Lucy developed and pioneered all those years ago? How about networks start grasping that these one-camera 'comedies' for people who don't like comedies are a waste of time and serve no real audience because people who really want to come home and laugh aren't going to do so watching the to-the-camera 'ironic' whinings of Steve Carrell.

NBC has renewed 30 Rock for another season. This despite the fact that last season's average was a little less than 6 million viewers and this year's average so far is 6 million viewers. By contrast, The Big Bang Theory, having to grab viewers on an all new night once it was moved to Thursday, is grabbing 13.6 million viewers each week. See the problem?

Of course, you do, you're not ruining NBC. Sadly, a lot of suits are.

With a single-camera show -- as even the best attempts at comedy demonstrate (see Cougar Town) -- you're going to have to go from a frantic comedy scene to one of reflection. Why? You can't maintain the rhythm. In film, actors work very hard at maintaining the comedic rhythm and have the time to really work at that since a film is shot over many, many weeks while a sitcom is shot in one week. What happens too often is someone decides a scene is 'quirky' (not funny) and, since no lines were flubbed, that's good enough. Next set up!

No, it's not good enough. And a studio audience would make that more clear. In addition, actors feed off the energy of the audience which also helps the rhythm. Comedy depends upon it and many actors in the last ten years have been lost without it.

Perfect Couples revolves around three couples. Dave (Kyle Bornheimer -- formerly of Worst Week) and Julia (Christine Woods) are married. Her brother Rex (Hayes MacArthur) is married to Leigh (Olivia Munn, formely Greta on Chuck). They're all friends with engaged to be married Amy (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) and Vance (David Walton). All the actors already have a grip on their characters and you've got six unique ones, not six of the same. Even if it doesn't switch to a live audience, this is already showing more promise than the bulk of what NBC has tossed on Thursday nights in the last five years (Parks and Recreations being the only exception and that laugh-out loud sitcom returns to NBC Thursday night).

Dave is upset that when Julia comes home from a hard day of work (he beats her home because he tends to knock off early for activities such as napping and bowling), she immediately wants to switch into sweats and take off her make up. Vance tries to offer feedback, "So troubling, man. I mean comfort's great but we must require excellence from others or the spark goes out. Amy wears an array of sexy bras and underwear sets. I return the favor by rocking tighty-whiteys and western footwear."

Footwear figures into Amy's problems. To look sexy, she wears high heels non-stop and now has stage-five clicky feet which she demonstrates to Julia and Leigh by walking. Obsessive Leigh tops her with the revelation that the entire reason she has a gym membership is to avoid using the toilet at her home. They explain to Julia that, somewhere between the two of them, is her own comfort level.

In bits and pieces, each episode almost acquires the rhythm of Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You" but the biggest obstacle to achieving that remains the lack of a studio audience. A studio audience would send this solid show flying.
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