Monday, January 13, 2020

TV: NBC flops again

Last week, NBC tried airing an innovative show as well as yesterday's french fries 'fresh' from the microwave.  Let's start with the actual new.


Jane Levy has starred in SUBURGATORY and WHAT/IF.  She's a strong actress with plenty of appeal and NBC'S ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST is lucky to have her.  A show built on a whim is always iffy but Levy walks you through in a manner that make you care.

The series wants to bring dance and singing back to primetime.

"Wait!" you shout.  "THE VOICE and shows like that have singing.  And what about SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE?"

No.  Those are shows about singing or about dancing.  And they aren't scripted, they're competition shows.  NBC's SMASH featured singing.  It featured really lame dancing unless the dancer was a background character who never had a single spoken line.  ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST is attempting to feature them both.

We're reminded of when variety shows like THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW featured both and you might tune in to catch Lesley Ann Warren dancing and singing "The Best Is Yet To Come."  In addition to ordering episodes from AMAZON PRIME, remember that some episodes of THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW are available for free -- in full -- on THE ROKU CHANNEL and METV airs edited episodes Sundays at 10:30 pm EST and Monday through Friday at 11:00 pm EST. NETFLIX is delivering on sketch comedy variety shows with two first-rate programs (I THINK YOU SHOULD LEAVE WITH TIM ROBINSON and ASTRONOMY CLUB) but there's no real attempt at a traditional variety show in prime time.  NBC continues to air SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE which, with musical guests as well as musical segments featuring the cast, what qualifies as a variety show; however, for decades, no network has had a success in primetime with a variety show.  In 2016, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short did get a chance with MAYA & MARTY but, possibly because NBC saddled the show with Lorne Michaels, it flopped.

It should have been a hit but it decided to go political.  That's what people want, right?  As they endure one political ad after another in an election year -- more politics.  Worse, they did one-sided politics.  Even worse, they thought they could build a skit around the fact that a person from Slovenia has an accent.

Now Donatella Versace has an accent but when Maya was on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and parodied Donatella, the accent was there but it was not the joke.  On MAYA & MARTY, it was an unfunny skit where the whole joke was: Laugh at the foreign accent.

Martin Short knew the show was in trouble and was complaining before it aired.  He repeatedly insisted the show needed to be funny, not political.  He wasn't against a political skit, he was against a show built around politics.  He wasn't the only one.  One writer told us he asked Lorne Michaels, "Are we supposed to be drumming up votes or getting laughs because these skits aren't funny?"

Thanks, Lorne, for blowing the only real shot a variety show has had in years.

ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST is a scripted show.  Levy plays Zoey whose father (Peter Gallagher) is in some sort of near catatonic state and who spends her time at work trying to prove to her boss (Lauren Graham) that she deserves a promotion.  Zoey is stressing out and, in terms of her father, decides to get an MRI to be sure she doesn't have the same neurological disease; however, in the middle of the procedure, an earthquake hits and the combination leaves her with an ability to read people's minds (or at least the belief that she can).  When she reads someone's mind, they express what they're feeling in song.  She hears their thoughts as songs.  They're usually dancing as well.

 They're are some strong musical productions in the show.  And let's especially praise Skylar Astin (as Max) performing the old Partridge Family hit "I Think I Love You."  In fact, that moment, when Zoey learns that Max harbors a crush on her and another moment (non-musical) when Gallagher's Mitch grips his wife Maggie's hand are probably the two strongest moments in the show.  Mary Steenburgen plays Maggie and plays her with perfection.  Steenburgen has had a strong career and we've often been impressed (including with BOOK CLUB and THE PROPOSAL) but she's really hitting all the notes with Maggie.

MANIFEST is hitting a note too -- in fact, it's the same note over and over -- a really dull note.  For some reason, NBC decided to renew MANIFEST.  It's viewer numbers dropped with each episode last season and it wrapped things up with half as many viewers as when the show debuted.  It was similar, in ratings, to THE EVENT.  But NBC only gave THE EVENT one season.

Another difference?  THE EVENT was watchable.


Has there ever been a more one dimensional looking show?  Do they have a professional crew because no care goes into lighting a scene or blocking a scene.

No care goes into acting either.  These are either the worst actors ever or the worst directed ones.

The show runners pursue mediocrity with the same sort of zeal Divine demands cha-cha heels in FEMALE TROUBLE.

You can argue it paid off -- MANIFEST got twice as many viewers as ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST.  But it's also true, MANIFEST got less than half as many viewers -- less than half -- that it had for its season opener last year.  So the network failed in selling a new and potentially exciting show and also failed in drawing viewers to a returning show?  These days, the Peacock network doesn't know how to market a show unless they can slap the word "Chicago" at the start of the title.

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