Television is a vast wasteland, according to Newton Minow.

Don't Bring Me Clown

Posted: 24 January 2010 | posted by David J. Loehr | 5 comments

Not to poke Modern Family fans with a stick or anything, but after the jump, here's a WalMart commercial that achieves in thirty seconds what the "Fizbo" episode couldn't do in thirty minutes.

As an online friend noted, creativity is subtraction. Here's the "birthday party with clown gone horribly wrong," boiled down to the essentials. Even though you're prepared for every element in advance, it still manages to surprise in the execution.

Moreover, it has the "documentary" feel. It has as much character building as you can get in half a minute. You empathize with each of the parents in turn. And the payoff is beautiful.

The most amazing part to me isn't that WalMart approved this ad, but that WalMart has an ad that's genuinely entertaining.

Click to read the full post...

Modern families are all alike.

Posted: 08 January 2010 | posted by David J. Loehr | 5 comments

It's time. Critics—many of whom I normally agree with up one side and down the other—love this show. Heck, after only two months, the Hollywood Reporter prematurely included it in their list of the ten best shows of the last decade over series like Arrested Development and The Wire.

I've given it eleven episodes, if only to see what all the fuss was about, and surely that's a fair sampling.

Thoughts on Modern Family after the jump.

For those who don't know, Modern Family is about, well, a modern family. Ed O'Neill plays Jay, the patriarch with a new young Colombian wife and stepson. Then there's Claire and Phil--she's Jay's daughter--and their three children. Finally, there's Cameron--Jay's son--and Mitchell, Cam's life partner, who've just adopted a baby from Vietnam. In the words of the ABC Medianet, "Shot from the perspective of an unseen documentary filmmaker, this comedy takes a modern look at the complications that come with being a family in 2009."

The pilot was cleverly constructed so that we weren't supposed to know that these three families were all really part of one extended family. Smart idea, one that would do an actual reality show proud. Unfortunately, the ABC promotional department went and gave up the ghost before it aired.

In the weeks before it aired, I don't know how many times I read that this was the best pilot anyone had seen in years, maybe on a par with Arrested Development Considering the cast and crew, it was one of the only new shows I actively looked forward to watching.

And then it aired.

I'll be honest. This show confounds me. It's well made, the cast is good across the board, the pedigree of the writing staff is mostly impeccable and it's won near universal praise. And yet, I haven't laughed or smiled once in eleven episodes. I've continued to watch long beyond the point when I'd normally give up on a show precisely because I'm trying to figure it why it doesn't work for me.

It started with the pilor. One subplot was painful to watch. Phil's son, Luke, shoots his sister with a BB gun, and so, in true "punishment fits the crime" mode, Phil decides to do the same to the boy to show him how it feels. This leads to a scene where the family tries to coordinate their schedules with the calendar to find the right time for the shooting. And then, in the end, in the moment, Phil decides not to fire, because Luke's fear of the shooting was enough. Alas, being in the idiot-manchild mold of Michael Scott, Phil slips and shoots the boy anyway, thus proving Chekhov's rule about toy guns. Not only that, he also shoots his daughter's new boyfriend and then himself. Of course. Comedy rule of threes, I suppose. (Also by Chekhov.)

Even by sitcom standards, what part of that subplot was recognizable human behavior? Claire, as the presumably sensible mother, should have stopped things right off the bat. And who didn't see the end coming a mile away? They establish Phil as bumbling throughout the episode, and then, presented with a gun, there really was no other possible outcome.

The other subplots in the episode--Cam and Mitchell bring their baby home from Vietnam to introduce to the family, and Jay is mistaken for his new wife Gloria's father because of their age difference--were fine, nothing special one way or the other. There was a touch of stereotype to each, whether Latina or homosexual, but at least there were attempts to play with those stereotypes and subvert them.

Because of the structure of the episode, we only have a few minutes to realize they're one big family, and for Jay to go on about how, if Cam and Mitchell want to adopt something, they should adopt a dog—oh, look, he's intolerant--before they reveal their new baby. This is immediately followed by a heartwarming "here's the lesson" voiceover by Jay. The pacing is odd, there's little set-up for the whiplash back and forth, but Ed O'Neill sells it well. The casting makes the narrative shorthand plausible, but presumably, they plotted and wrote it long before they cast it.

Every inch of the script is polished and buffed, every line punched up, every beat right on cue. As the season has gone on, I've noticed more and more critics pointing this out, that if the show has a flaw, it's that the writing sounds less like reality and more like well-honed writing.

You don't need to remind me that Frasier wasn't a paragon of realism. But it was never presented as such. Extraordinary things happened in various episodes, the characters were wittier than mere mortals in similar situations, and yet, the show worked. The characters were grounded, they had clear connections and reasons for being, they combined in different and entertaining ways. It was a situation and style of show that played to these writers' strengths. And that's where Modern Family falls apart for me.

Goodness knows I have a healthy respect for Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan's work on Frasier and Just Shoot Me. (Both shows suffered later from extensive turnover in writing staff, but that's part and parcel of being a long-running show.) They know how to craft a punchline, broad or subtle. Even in their failed series--and there's a decent list of those--there were bright spots in the writing.

And I certainly enjoy both series and films done in this mockumentary style. The Office which has its ups and downs for me, and Parks and Recreation are just two sterling examples of how to do this right. (I know that Jace at Televisionary is smiling right now, knowing how I felt about the first season of P&R.)

I think the disconnect for me is in the combination of these two elements--the very polished sitcom writing and the shaggy psuedo-real shooting style. In this show, they do not mesh at all.

The documentary angle of the show simply does not work. It is not organic to the situation, it is not remarked upon unless it's convenient to the moment, it is not well-thought out. The documentary cameras just happen to catch all the information/exposition they need, whether cameras would be in the situation or not. They must be some talented, well nigh invisible cameramen to be able to capture some of the scenes they've shown us.

More to the point, these people only act as if they're in a documentary when they're in the so-called "talking head" or confessional scenes. Often, these appear to be shot in one long session and then broken up to fill in gaps within the story, which lead to odd questions of "why doesn't he know X detail, if he's retelling this to us after the fact?" He or she may be wearing the same outfit, in the same pose, but suddenly they're acting and reacting to story details from later in the plot. But, with rare exceptions, they don't seem to be aware of the documentary in their everyday lives, and they don't seem to realize that the things they say on camera in these confessionals will be seen by any of their family or friends.

That's the big difference between Modern Family and the NBC mockumentary shows. Greg Daniels and his crews have done a wonderful job not only in designing the worlds of The Office and Parks and Recreation, but in thinking through how an actual documentary of these stories would be made and edited together.

In Modern Family, those confessional scenes are a crutch for lazy writing. They're almost all "tell, don't show," which breaks the first rule of writing. They're as easy as Family Guy and their scattershot cutaway gags—you can see them coming, you can almost set your watch by them. They're not organic to either the reality of the situation or of the purported documentary.

In Office and particularly Parks, the talking head scenes often seem offhand, caught in the moment, on the spot. It's rare for them to jar you out of the reality of the show. (Usually, when that happens, it's Michael Scott tilting into cartoon stupidity. But that's one reason why, as much as I like The Office at times, it wouldn't make a list of my top ten shows of the '00s. Which I supposes Myles is going to want me to write next…)

With both of Daniels' shows, there is a clear awareness of the documentary crew, there is an acceptance of their presence. This allows Nick Offerman to steal a scene from the background with the merest flick of an eyebrow. And there is a sense of distance when needed—moments when no cameraman would plausibly be in the room are handled deftly, often as exposition through dumb show as with Jim and Pam discovering her pregnancy several rooms away from the camera, in silence. The confessional scenes then elaborate and enhance the story as opposed to serving as an obvious punchline. The writing and directing of both series is keenly aware of the documentary structure and how best to use it.

Compare that to Arrested Development, which was shot and designed in a similar style, but is not in itself a mockumentary. The omniscent narrator is used to propel the story, to tie things together and is, at times, an unreliable narrator. But at no time are we told that this is a documentary or even reality. It could simply be a story. The show understood its style and stayed consistent with how it presented the characters and stories.

Another problem I had with the pilot and the series in general is that I don't understand why any of these families are together. Jay has a younger Latin wife because they want to tell jokes about the age and ethnic differences. Cam and Mitchell adopt a baby so they can tell jokes about two daddies. Claire married Phil because he's a romantic doofus, I suppose, they've told us that much. Beyond that, these people are connected because the writers want them to be.

This is a problem when you have episodes like the most recent, which has been described as "three stories taken down from the board at random." The three branches of the family don't really interact in this episode. But then the question is, why would a documentary crew want to follow them? If the stories don't connect in some way—either thematically or directly—then are we watching random sketches? Short stories? An anthology series about people who are supposedly related? Why are these stories placed together in this twenty-two minute period? Because the writers had three stories and twenty-two minutes.

The closest the show has come to getting a smile from me was with the episode where the various families connected in different ways, ie Jay and Gloria's son Manny visiting Phil and Claire's to spend time with their son Luke, but instead connecting with his "sister" Claire and, at times, being the more mature person in their conversations. Clever twist, even if the actual writing was again overpolished and obvious. Each combination of characters in that episode was surprising—and that's what the show needs, more spontaneity and more surprise. At the very least, there needs to be some kind of connection, some reason for us—and the filmmakers—to follow these people.

That doesn't mean the entire family has to get together by the end of every episode. But with everyone in such close proximity, and with a natural reason to interact, there's no reason why they can't drift in and out of each others' worlds more regularly or more naturally. They've built in all kinds of excuses for these characters to be together in various configurations, but they haven't taken advantage of them. If I had family around when I had a baby, I'd be calling on them and spending time with them regularly, especially if they had experience with children. That's just one example. There don't have to be big events or parties or get-togethers, and the more often they do that, the more tired it seems. Considering how many times they've gone to that well in eleven episodes, I'm not holding out much hope.

Arrested Development also had a sprawling family with even less reason to spend time together. But every interaction, every random combination of characters was different and often laugh out loud funny. The show stayed loose and light on its feet, and at every turn, it surprised the viewer. Or viewers. (I think it had viewers.)

It was interesting earlier in the season to watch as fans of Modern Family and Community started acting like the Jets and Sharks all over the interwebs. If you liked one, the other had to go down. I wasn't in either camp, but I will say this: as the season's worn on, Community has evolved from a snarky, amusing pilot to a show with real warmth and, well, community, while Modern Family has maintained its sleek, well-made, well-worn engine without changing or developing. The problems I had with the pilot have been repeated and magnified with each episode.

And still I watch.

The cast is charming and clearly having a good time working together. Ty Burrell does a good job with what he's given, but he can't help but come off as a faux Steve Carell. The tone of his character veers wildly between earnest and goofy, with less of the nuance of Michael Scott at his best. But again, that's the writing. Eric Stonestreet fares better, but his character's a little more original. Rico Rodriguez is absolutely winning as Manny. And Ed O'Neill looks like he's having the time of his life.

They also let the guest cast shine. Benjamin Bratt in particular gave an interesting performance in this most recent episode. But even there, his character—Gloria's Colombian ex-husband—was inconsistent with what we'd been told up till now; Bratt's version was, frankly, more interesting than what I'd been expecting from previous episodes' exposition, but that's beside the point.

In the end, it all comes down to the writing.

Several weeks ago, the promos for the episode Fizbo looked promising. Again, the interwebs were filled with word of how this was a particularly good episode.

Fizbo began with the dreaded in-media-res opening of someone at the hospital as the family converges. We're not supposed to know who's been hurt, of course. The episode flashes back to set up another big get-together, Luke's birthday party. Plans escalate to absurd degrees, but the instant Claire sets up her little crafting station with beads, the first thought in my head was, "Oh. Luke's going to slip and fall on beads and wind up at the hospital." It's innocuous and "lame" compared to the other, dangerous activities at the party, so it has to be the cause, and it has to be Luke because that would be poetic. And it would turn out to be his best birthday party ever.

We then get moments of Cameron as Fizbo the clown—with, as Alan Sepinwall pointed out, the "marvelous assembly of words that is 'weird gay clown uncle.'"—and the scorpion and the archery, Phil's fear of clowns and Gloria in the bouncy castle, intercut with flashes of more family members showing up at the hospital and thus not the mysterious patient. Finally, all hell breaks loose, and what happens? In the chaos, Luke slips and falls on beads and winds up at the hospital. And yes, it was his best birthday party ever.

Stonestreet was lovely as Fizbo, and again, I appreciated that they were tweaking stereotypes, this time adding clowns into the mix. Still, I sat deadpan the entire time. I suppose the marvelous assembly of words amused me, but it's almost funnier in Sepinwall's description than it was in practice, if that makes sense.

Frasier proved that Lloyd and Levitan know farce, which is very specific and different from comedy. Fawlty Towers is farce. Jeeves and Wooster, 'Allo, 'Allo, specific episodes of Frasier—the back-to-back fifth season wonders of The Ski Lodge by farceur extraordinaire Joe Keenan and the Cowardian Room Service by Ken Levine and David Isaacs—or the Woody's Wedding episode of Cheers (written by the great David Lloyd), these are farce. Fizbo skates into farce territory, with hidden secrets, a ridiculous chain of events and the climax where every element of the plot smashes together. But it never goes beyond its mechanics, it doesn't stick the landing. It stays obvious throughout, right up to another heartwarming ending.

Look, there's nothing wrong with a standard-issue, well-made sitcom. Modern Family is better than a fair number of sitcoms on the air right now. Maybe without the hyperventilatory praise, I would've enjoyed it more. After sticking with it through these eleven episodes, though, I think I'd have come to the same conclusion.

If you enjoy the show, by all means, keep watching. As for me and ABC's Wednesday night lineup, I'll stick with The Middle. It's not reinventing the wheel either, but it's evolved nicely since the pilot. The writing is clever, the situations recognizable, the characters human, aside from Brooke Shields. Stories zig when you expect them to zag, with a sense of humor more in line with Arrested Development and Better Off Ted. It even manages to be heartwarming without being obvious or saccharine about it.

More to the point, it's done what only Parks and Recreation, Community and 30 Rock have this season.

It's made me laugh out loud.

Click to read the full post...

Normally, there would be a clever title here.

Posted: 03 December 2009 | posted by David J. Loehr | 1 comments

But I'm not in a laughing mood right now.

Look, I love a good thriller. I enjoy murder mysteries, always have, always will. I saw Silence of the Lambs in the theater twice, and I don't do that often. Homicide is one of the few series I've ever tried writing a spec script for. But. I don't watch Dexter. I didn't have a particular reason before. Now, I do.

This news story is unremittingly grim. The headline is enough: "Ind. teen charged with strangling brother, 10." And if you read the story, the teen talks about how he felt "just like" Dexter, as in the Showtime series.

Sure, you can tell me all about how Dexter has a code that he tries to follow. Yes, you can tell me that a tv show shouldn't be held accountable for the actions of one person. Go on and tell me how I can use technology to block my children from seeing the show. Fine.

But it's not just a tv show, is it? It's a wide-ranging marketing campaign, including websites, whether the official Showtime site, MySpace, Facebook or the Twitter feed, which runs contests you can "take a stab" at--their words, not mine. It's ads on buses, billboards, magazines, stands in shopping malls. It's boxed sets of DVDs that--at our local WalMart--are conveniently shelved a foot off the floor, right next to the rack of new kids' DVDs with the Wonder Pets and Dora and all.

Now, you can "Dexterize" your friends' Facebook pages. You can order a Dexter Bloody Mary on select Delta flights. You can buy cute little bobbleheads of "all your favorite characters," though to listen to most critics, I can't imagine most of those other characters will sell. (Find your LaGuerta bobbleheads at BigLots. Or not.)

Miss it Sunday night on Showtime? Catch the rerun on Saturday afternoon. Early on Saturday afternoon. (Thanks, DirecTV, for that gift of three free months of the Showtime package. Could I please just have Sundance Channel all by itself? No? Okay.) Better yet, you can catch episodes online in any one of a number of places.

And the animated prequel as web series? Lovely.

Every inch of that marketing and product is designed to amuse us. Isn't that clever? "New killer...season." Look, he's smiling a goofy smile, but the side of his face is splattered with blood. Awwww. Oh, in this one, he's shushing us and hiding his knife. How arch. Even if the show itself tries to provide some nuance, some balance between dark humor and pathos, the marketing is portraying this as Fun! Fun! Fun! He's the serial killer even a mother could love. Wait, there's a good slogan for the next season...

I know what's involved in selling a product, I've worked at that myself. It's doing what marketing is supposed to do, making the product as appealing as possible to the widest audience possible. Sometimes, we lose sight of what product we're actually selling. More to the point, we lose sight of to whom we're selling.

There are no parental blocks for billboards and magazine covers.

Did Dexter really influence this kid? I don't know. Did he learn anything from the show? Maybe, maybe not.

All I know is, I want nothing to do with a show like this. I'd rather be entertained.

Click to read the full post...

Bear with me, not Fozzie

Posted: 24 September 2009 | posted by David J. Loehr | 0 comments

We've redesigned the place, getting ready to blow out the cobwebs and start writing about the new fall season. Short version so far: Community made me laugh out loud. So did Mercy, although it didn't mean to. And I'm about to watch Modern Family at last.

Stay tuned...

Click to read the full post...

Chuck Vs. The Poor Development Slate

Posted: 09 April 2009 | posted by David J. Loehr | 6 comments

Or "Vs. the Silverman" might be more appropriate.

What with the series Chuck facing an uncertain future, I've made a few avatars, badges, what have you, for use on Twitter, Facebook or the social network of your choice.

Save Chuck!

More images after the jump...

I made these at the suggestion of Mo Ryan, who knows some of my design work and suspected I was a fan of the show. I'm very much a fan--I can't think of another current show that hits as many of my mental tickle spots with the possible exception of 30 Rock. And this has secret agents.

Here are a few more avatars to choose from. Feel free to use them to show your support for Chuck. Just right click on the image, select "save image as..." and you're good to go. Some are better in the larger format, but all should work within Twitter et al. And I'll be adding to this collection as the month goes on, so check back if you have avatar ennui...

Save Chuck!
Save Chuck!
Save Chuck!
Save Chuck!
Save Chuck!
Save Chuck!

Here's one last one, in honor of Mo's beloved Saul Tigh avatar, which has been temporarily displaced.

Save Chuck!

And here's a question for the tv types out there. Is there some unspoken covenant that every thirty years, a man named Silverman will rise to drive NBC into the ground? I'm just wondering...

Click to read the full post...

It's not TV, it's live theatre...

Posted: 24 December 2008 | posted by David J. Loehr | 1 comments

I'm in the midst of a break from tv and tv-related blogging, since we've been elbow-deep in production this month with a new play. That and, well, it's Christmas. But speaking of, here is a blog post from McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ--where I lived for many years--concerning some complaints about their current version of A Christmas Carol.

The short version? The author, astounded, rails against all the criticism they've been getting about not using "God bless us, every one," as the last line of the story.

After the jump, my take on their take on Dickens.

The author's argument that ‘it does still appear in the story, you’ll hear it in the Christmas Present scene, it’s okay,’ shows a keen talent for Jesuitical hair-splitting, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of the message of the story and/or the season.

But pointing out that “it’s a bit unclear who would say: ‘and so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!’ It’s only Scrooge and Tim onstage, after all!” is disingenuous at best. There’s nothing that says the line at the end has to be exactly that word for word. It doesn’t need a narrator. It doesn’t even need people beyond Tiny Tim and Scrooge on the stage at the time. But I think it does need to be there, assuming you have a 6-yr-old who doesn’t “squeal” the line. Why?

For one thing, people are waiting for it. As a writer, I don’t subscribe to the “do what’s expected” school of thought very often, but once in a while… You wouldn’t adapt “Gone With the Wind” and end with the line “I’ll worry about it tomorrow.” You wouldn’t end “Casablanca” with “Hey, I like you, let’s hang out.” Even if you could craft a line that gets the same meaning across–and presumably with more style than those two examples–you’ll still get slammed by audiences and critics alike simply because it’s one change too many. But it’s more than just staying true to the words of the book. Why is it that people are waiting for that line?

Because to wrap the play up with Scrooge saying ”a heart which until very recently never knew the meaning of the phrase–a very…merry…Christmas” doesn’t quite capture Dickens’ intent, I don’t think. Yes, it illustrates how Scrooge himself has changed, fine. (It might be nice if it didn’t sound more like Dr. Phil than Charles Dickens, but that’s another criticism entirely.) I would argue that Dickens isn’t only concerned with Scrooge at that point. By ending with that thought, the play stays closed off, there is only one person who is touched, and that person is Scrooge.

Ending with the line, “God bless us, every one,” isn’t just some little kid being cute, it isn’t just a moment in the story itself, it is Dickens reminding the audience directly and–here’s the important part–including and welcoming them into the story and the sentiment. The playwright's line goes past sentiment into sentimentality. Furthermore, done well, the scene should balance past, present and future, or youth and age, or even innocence, corruption and redemption if you’d prefer, all of which are more than a little thematic to the story.

In any case, people are waiting for that line precisely because it is the one moment meant for everyone, it is the one moment addressed directly to them. Without that closure, you may have a lovely production of “A Christmas Carol,” but it will–and does–seem a little chillier than it could be.

As for the comment that “one post asked us to ‘return your play to Mr. Dickens’ (funny, he didn’t write the play…),” I suppose that’s supposed to sound clever, but the post isn’t implying that Dickens wrote the play. It seems to imply that your play should get back to more of the original language.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that after years in the Princeton area, I now live in the Louisville area, so now I get to see the Actors’ Theatre of Louisville production each year. Their adaptation tinkers with the story as well, and this year introduced some new elements to the production. My own theatre company has produced the one-man version of Tom Mula’s play, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” for a few years running as well, which is a wonderfully different take on the material. But both of those adaptations understand that whatever it is you change, that line belongs at the end of the story.

Of course, in the last twenty years, the most effective, most beautiful production I’ve seen of “A Christmas Carol” has been the one-man stage version performed by Patrick Stewart, which doesn’t alter the text as written except in trimming for time. It is, quite simply, stunning.

It just goes to show, Charles Dickens knew how to write one hell of an exit line.

Click to read the full post...

The facts are these...

Posted: 21 November 2008 | posted by David J. Loehr | 3 comments

It seems Pushing Daisies has finally, apparently, been cancelled. I say that because there's still no official word beyond the fact that ABC isn't ordering any more episodes beyond the initial 13 this season. No, the ratings have been underwhelming, to say the least. Yes, the show is expensive, even after trimming the budget after the pilot. From a business standpoint, the whole thing makes sense.

So why is ABC making a big mistake?

You could make the argument that it's a critically acclaimed show--which is is, for the most part--and that it's always good to keep those around. That's fine. Me, I've been down that road with ABC before, albeit a different regime. (It's a little scary to realize that article is already ten years old. Anyway. Moving on.)

No, there's one solid reason to keep Pushing Daisies alive and kicking on the air, and it has nothing to do with its ratings or its fans. Bryan Fuller, the creator of Daisies as well as Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, was on the staff of Heroes in its first season. He was responsible for episodes like "Company Man," widely considered the single best episode of the series. Since he left the staff, the show has gone downhill. (I'm being kind. The ratings have gone downhill. The writing has gone beyond.) And Fuller has stated that, if Daisies were indeed cancelled, he'd like to go back to Heroes and see if he could rescue it.

So let's see. Here, we have ABC with a well-liked, critically acclaimed show created and run by a man who, were he not under contract, would go back to NBC and their former monster hit series and try to restore it to its previous ratings (and coherent) glory, a man credited with being the best writer who ever worked on that show. Does this make sense to you?

Me, I'd keep the player off the board. If that means keeping Daisies on the air, so be it. Who really loses there? The fans win, because the show stays on. The network wins, because it gets some press for sticking by someone with actual creative vision. And the network also wins because their rival's series keeps struggling.

Of course, I would've brought the show back after the writers' strike, even if only in reruns. How many classic series survived to a second or third season only because the reruns ran all summer long and gave people a chance to catch up and fall in love? (Hello, Dick Van Dyke!) But no, they kept the show off the air for NINE MONTHS and relaunched it cold this fall. No lead-up, no real promotion, no real explanation.

Considering the nine-month absence, I think I might have gone with a more concentrated promotional push aimed at reintroducing the show instead of assuming that people knew about it and were simply waiting for it to return. Great, people in a few major cities got free pies. That accomplished what, exactly?

And then, after the bounce in ratings from being the only alternative to the Obama-mercial, I probably wouldn't have taken the show off for the following two weeks. Call me crazy, I'm thinking people came back the following week, found a reality show and ran away again.

Granted, as R. A. Porter reminded me, this is TV, not sports, "There's no Billy Beane." Very true, and maybe that's a shame. The networks try counter-programming, but here's a chance to do more than that. Oh well.

Maybe, if they had really been smart, they might have held off on bringing the show back until midseason. What's a few more months between friends? Then, there would have been less noise, less competition, less frenzy. Maybe get some kind of promotional material in as many bakeries and pie shops around the country as possible. Maybe reintroduce the series over the Christmas holiday break, with two or three episodes across the week between holidays. Then, pair it up with a complimentary show, maybe give it a better lead in, maybe put it on Sunday evening where it might have a chance. Maybe go to a thirteen-episode-per-season schedule for some series, giving more time to concentrate on quality--this works for FX, BBC, etc. (It used to work for HBO, but that's another story...)

I'm always amused--and a little insulted--when the networks try to pass off their programming as rocket science. (Well, everyone except Ben. Hi, Ben! Leave 30 Rock alone, and I won't mock your talking car anymore...) Especially these days, when the niche channels are not just nipping at their heels but surpassing them in quality, acclaim, awards and--once in while--even ratings. Smart promotion, smart scheduling, a modicum of patience and a tolerance of quality. That's all it takes.

I doubt anyone will come along and, like the Piemaker, raise Daisies from the dead for more than a minute, but if there's anything I've learned from the show, it's that it never hurts to be optimistic.

That, and stay away from nuns in green habits.

Click to read the full post...

Hey, moose. How you doing?

Posted: 20 October 2008 | posted by David J. Loehr | 0 comments

I have to say, as a fan of the inexplicably funny Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals sketch from the other week, I did enjoy the follow-up cameo this past weekend, mixed in with all the Sarah Palin stuff.

But. The actual payoff fizzled, I thought, partly because they didn't follow the old "comedy rule of threes." Maybe I'm crazy but they could have put a nice button on everything--and tied it all together even more--after the rap number...

After the jump, see what more they could have done.

One more quick bit with the moose and Mark backstage a few minutes later. "Hey, moose. How you doing? I saw you got shot during the news sketch. I'm in 'Max Payne,' opens this weekend. Say hi to your mother for me." Even better, the moose could point out that he's not an animal. Or even that it was Andy Samberg inside. "Yeah, I know you're in there. But just remember, I'm going to be watching you." They could have gone in any number of directions with it.

That would have pulled everything together, it would leave the subliminal message to keep watching the entire episode each week--or even to keep watching past November 4th--because you never know what's going to happen, and it reinforces the movie he's there to promote--hey, moose, I play a guy with a gun. Best of all, like that last sentence, it keeps to the rule of threes.

Surely, that would have been funnier than either of the conference room sketches, about which the less said, the better.

Click to read the full post...

One more thing...

Posted: 26 September 2008 | posted by David J. Loehr | 0 comments

Busy week, but before I forget...

-- The Office is back, it finally got another hour-long episode just right and all is right with the world.

-- I'm already suffering Burn Notice withdrawal on top of my Middleman withdrawal.

-- My boys are deliriously in love with Pucca. Thank you, Tim Goodman.

-- I'm still having delayed stress flashbacks to Josh Groban at the Emmys. Please, make it stop.

-- Looks like I get to drink a milkshake after all.

-- Went to see Teller talking about the Science and Wonder of Magic this morning at the Idea Festival in Louisville this morning. As he put it, "What you read on the website and in the programs? A thin tissue of lies." A good opening line, if not quite true. An excellent talk with insight not just into magic but creativity and ideas itself through the evolution of a magic trick. (Yes, I know how to do it, and no, we promised not to say how.)

-- You know what might have been funny? If Groban's medley had included his impression of a test pattern. (I'm assuming the medley was supposed to be funny. It was, wasn't it?)

-- On second thought, forget the milkshake. It probably doesn't taste very good, all things considered...

Click to read the full post...

Comedy checks in, but it won't check out...

Posted: 22 September 2008 | posted by David J. Loehr | 1 comments

Granted, today is officially the beginning of the fall season, and hardly anything has premiered. I haven't seen much of anything--and much of what I have seen has made me pray for hysterical blindness. (I'm looking at you, Knight Rider. Wait, no, I'm not...) So it's probably unfair to have a pick for the dead pool...

Then again, Do Not Disturb has been on twice, it's gotten abysmal ratings that, if I'm not mistaken, went down, and now, the creators have--presumably with tongue in cheek--sent a letter to TV critics to apologize "for being the perpetrators of such bad television." I'm sure FOX loved that approach.

I'm sorry, if you're really that aware of what you're doing, then why are you doing it? There are good writers out here who could use some work.

So there it is. If Do Not Disturb isn't the first show cancelled this year, I'll eat my hat. Or drink its milkshake. Or go write something.

Click to read the full post...