Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Amazon picks its original series

Start thinking about whether you want to sign up for another online streaming service, because Amazon has picked its original series. It chose only two of its eight comedy pilots -- "Alpha House" and "Betas" -- and three of its kids pilots. The shows were chosen based on feedback from customers, among other factors.

Strangely, the two Greek-letter comedies were my favorite and least favorite of the bunch. I quite enjoyed "Betas," about four Silicon Valley guys looking to make it big with their new app. On the flip side, I really did not like "Alpha House," which stars John Goodman as one of four Republican senator house-mates in Washington.

The kids shows are "Annebots," about a girl scientist and her robots; "Creative Galaxy," about an alien artist; and "Tumbleleaf," about an adventure-seeking fox. I didn't check out any of these, seeing as I have no children, but their existence in Amazon's crowd-sourcing scheme commanded my thoughts for a while.

If you're going to pick shows based on the opinions of viewers, children's shows make way more sense than comedies, whose success can be reliant on taste and other intangibles. But from what I gather from friends and family who have kids, parents seem to want more specific things -- educational, moral, age-appropriate -- from the shows they allow their children to watch. They put a lot of thought into this kind of stuff. My dog-sitter recently told me about the trail of movies he and his wife were going through trying to find a replacement for some sort of mildly violent penguin show that their daughter loved. Is it the penguins she likes, or the movement on screen? "Happy Feet" fell flat; let's try "Wall-E."

Which is all to say, crowd-sourcing kids shows is a fantastic idea. Parents are picky, so let them choose.

The shows will be available on Prime Instant Video starting later this year and in early 2014.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A look at the new fall schedule

The broadcast networks recently unveiled their fall lineups. Here are some things I noticed:

1. There are a ridiculous number of stars. Many of them are TV staples, like James Spader (NBC's "Blacklist"), Sean Hayes (NBC's "Sean Saves the World"), Michael J. Fox (NBC's "The Michael J. Fox Show"), Sarah Michelle Gellar (CBS's "The Crazy Ones"), Bradley Whitford (ABC's "Trophy Wife") and Andre Braugher (Fox's "Brooklyn Nine-Nine).

There are some typically movie-types, like Greg Kinnear (Fox's midseason drama "Rake"), Toni Colette (CBS's "Hostages"), Durmot Mulroney (NBC's "Crisis") and Giovanni Ribisi (Fox's "Dads").

And finally, some prodigal sons/daughters, like Robin Williams ("The Crazy Ones") and Gillian Anderson ("Crisis").

My memory is terrible and I haven't always been paying attention, but it seems to me the star power for the 2013-14 season is unprecedented. It means the to-watch calendar is going to be much fuller than usual.

2. If shows look familiar, it's because they are. TV is no stranger to remakes, which is why many critics were shocked that CBS passed on a new "Beverly Hills Cop." But there are still plenty of remakes/reimaginings on the way.

NBC is remaking "Ironside" with Blair Underwood as the wheelchair-bound cop played in the 1960s-70s by Raymond Burr. It's also got "Dracula," in which everyone's favorite vampire (played by "The Tudors'" Jonathan Rhys Meyers) turns up in 19th century London to take revenge on those who made him the way he is.

Over at Fox, "Sleepy Hollow" is being adapted with a resurrected Ichabod Crane teaming up with a modern-day police officer.

ABC has "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D," self-explanatory (and title unwieldy), plus the spinoff "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland."

Also at ABC are two shows that aren't straight remakes, but still feel familiar. They are "Back in the Game," with James Caan and Maggie Lawson, which has a "Bad News Bears" vibe to it, and "The Goldbergs," which has been described as a "Wonder Years" set in the 1980s.

3. Parents are all the rage. Sitcoms about families will outnumber sitcoms about swinging singles. And many of the family sitcoms are parent-centric.

In "Sean Saves the World," Hayes plays a divorced gay dad whose daughter moves in with him. In "Dads," Ribisi and Seth Green are two successful guys whose dads (Martin Mull and Peter Riegert) move in with them.

On NBC, "Welcome to the Family" seems to focus on two dads who dislike each other but have to deal with it because their young kids are getting married.

On CBS: In "The Crazy Ones," Williams and Gellar are a father-daughter ad team. "The Millers" features Will Arnett as a man whose parents (Margo Martindale and Beau Bridges) split up after they learn he's had a divorce. And "Mom" is about a newly sober single mom (Anna Faris) who's trying to regroup while her formerly estranged mother (Allison Janney) is back in her life.

Get a look
Three of the networks have previews for many of their fall shows for you to check out.
Fox just has a calendar:

I'll leave you with a preview for "The Michael J. Fox Show," which I'm most looking forward to.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Game of Thrones review: Second Sons

Peter Dinklage and Sophie Turner. (Photo by Helen Sloan, HBO)
"Second Sons" opens on Arya's eye, a fitting image for an episode largely playing to the adage that seeing is believing. It's also fitting for an episode that, after weeks of packed-in storylines, set its sights mainly on just three of them.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Video: "Office" talk

"The Office" is ending its nine-year run tonight on NBC, which is making my heart sink a little. To mark its end, I talked to Herald sports writer and fan Tommy Wright about the brief struggle after Steve Carell left, the joy of other characters, and the fate of Jim and Pam. Skip to 8:20.

For more of my thoughts on the last couple of seasons, click here.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A note about this week

For reasons various and sundry, this blog is taking a back seat to my normal duties on the print side this week. That means no "Game of Thrones" recap and a backpedal on my vow to keep up with upfronts week -- although I'll be passing along as much news as I can on Twitter (@emdashje).

Be on the lookout, however, for a roundtable discussion of "The Office" on Thursday as part of our weekly "GO! Live" video.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

NBC orders three comedies, two dramas

Series orders are coming fast and furious now. In addition to announcing the renewal of "Parks and Recreation" and the cancellation of several comedies, NBC on Thursday announced it has picked up three comedies and two dramas for the 2013-14 season.

About a Boy, based on the Nick Hornby novel and 2002 Hugh Grant movie, starring David Walton, Minnie Driver and "1600 Penn's" Benjamin Stockham. From "Parenthood" creator Jason Katims, who will be pulling double duty because "Parenthood" also was renewed for another season.

The Family Guide, starring J.K. Simmons as a blind man who is actively raising his kids with his ex-wife, played by Parker Posey. Jason Bateman narrates.

Sean Saves the World, starring Sean Hayes, about a gay dad whose teenage daughter comes to live with him.

The ambitious Crisis, in which the children of top Washington families, including the president's son, are kidnapped and held for ransom by a "vengeful mastermind." The premise sounds like it'll be a little hard to keep up, but you never know. Starring Gillian Anderson and Dermot Mulroney. From the creator of the too-short-lived "Life."

Believe, about a 10-year-old orphan girl with special powers who is protected by an escaped and wrongly accused death row inmate. From J.J. Abrams, who's a busy guy, and the dark-skewing Alfonso Cuaron.

NBC cancels Pacific Grove actress' show "1600 Penn"

NBC has canceled "1600 Penn," which featured Pacific Grove's Amara Miller as a member of the first family.

Miller, who just turned 13 on Saturday, seemed to take the news in stride. "Onto new projects!" she said on Twitter. "Will miss all the people of 1600 Penn."

She recently wrapped filming on the holiday movie "A Friggin' Christmas Miracle," starring Robin Williams, Joel McHale and Lauren Graham.

Photo by Byron Cohen/NBC
The network also canceled comedies "Guys with Kids," "Up All Night" and "Whitney."

On the super-exciting plus side, it renewed "Parks and Recreation."

YouTube women's channel WIGS worth a look

"Lauren," an original online drama series about rape in the military, is proving to be especially relevant this week, as the Pentagon on Tuesday released a report that shows a rising trend of unreported sexual assaults in the military. The show, which follows a servicewoman wanting to report a rape but learning just how heavily the deck is stacked against her, tracks even more closely to revelations earlier this year that the man who shot and killed two Santa Cruz police officers was twice accused of sexual assault while serving in Hawaii, but was allowed to be discharged in lieu of a court-martial.

The YouTube channel that "Lauren" is a part of, WIGS, is also on the relevance wagon this week. The channel's purpose is to offer original series, short films and documentaries, all with female leads. Although there are a few such shows on network TV -- "The Good Wife" and "Parks and Rec" come immediately to mind -- it's still very much a man's medium. Case in point: Fox just announced eight new shows for the 2013-14 season that skew very heavily male. (Ironically, Fox recently entered into a partnership with WIGS.)

The men (yes, men) who dreamed up WIGS wanted to tap into the growing number of women who are watching online programming. If it sounds like just an online version of Lifetime, at least think of it as more "Army Wives" than "Terrible Movie of the Week."

Fox orders four new dramas, four comedies for next season

Fox on Wednesday announced that it has picked up four new dramas and four new comedies for next year.

Almost Human (working title), starring Karl Urban, Michael Ealy and Lili Taylor, is a police drama set 35 years in the future, when cops pair up with human-like androids. It has uber-producer J.J. Abrams' prints on it.

Gang Related, starring a goatee'd Terry O'Quinn (!), Ramon Rodriguez and RZA, follows a rising star in a Los Angeles gang task force that goes after the city's three most dangerous gangs, including one he has ties to.

In Rake, Greg Kinnear becomes the latest movie star to jump to the small screen, as a self-destructive defense attorney who takes on cases no one else will touch. Based on an Australian series. Sam Raimi directed the pilot.

Sleepy Hollow, proof that adaptations are never as beaten to death as you think they are. From Deadline: "Ichabod Crane is resurrected and pulled two and a half centuries through time to find that the world is on the brink of destruction and that he is humanity's last hope, forcing him to team up with a contemporary police officer to unravel a mystery that dates all the way back to the founding fathers." So there's that. Stars Tom Milson and Nicole Beharie. Co-created by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, new Star Trek, Fringe).

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, from "Parks and Rec" producers Dan Goor and Michael Schur and starting Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher. About a detective who doesn't take anything seriously and his new by-the-book boss. Sounds like it's pretty by-the-book itself.

Enlisted, about three brothers getting to know each other again on a small Florida Army base. Starring Geoff Stults, created by Kevin Biegel (Cougar Town, Scrubs).

Rom-com Us & Them, based on the British series "Gavin and Stacey," starring Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel.

Surviving Jack, based on author Justin Halpern's book "I Suck at Girls." Starring Christopher Meloni as a dad to a teenage son in 1990s Southern California.

Plus there's Dads, previously ordered, a live-action, multi-camera show from Seth MacFarlane that stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as two successful guys whose dads (Martin Mull and Peter Riegert) move in with them.

This news comes as a precursor to next week, when the networks hold their "upfront" presentations for advertisers and the media, unveiling new series for the 2013-14 season and announcing renewals and such. I'll do my best to collate the big/important stuff each day. I'll be especially on the lookout for the fate of NBC's "1600 Penn," which stars Pacific Grove's Amara Miller. NBC presents Monday.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Game of Thrones review: "The Climb"

It's good to see The Wall again.

Those final images were stunning, the icy white to the north contrasted against the sun-dappled green to the south. It's crazy to think Ygritte is seeing grass for the first time, and with a top-of-the-world vantage point and Jon beside her, I can imagine she sees a realm of possibilities opening up to her. Jon did as he said he would -- protect her first -- when they were cut free on that harrowing climb up The Wall, a sequence that held up quite well as the episode's only action point. I only wish their relationship got my heart pumping as much as their ascent did. Their chemistry before the climb -- where she told him she knew he was still a crow at heart, and that if he betrayed her she'd cut off his junk and wear it around her neck, fitting with the body-part fashion that's all the rage in Westeros, apparently -- felt comfortable again, and I was ready to re-embrace them as a couple. But when it comes to actual passion, i.e. their kiss atop The Wall? Meh. Can I be the only one who feels this way?

Anyway, at least their coupling is a happy one. While Ygritte sees that grass is greener on the other side, Sansa keeps getting her heart thrown into the icy wastelands.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ranking the Amazon comedy pilots

Amazon is the latest online venture to try its hand at original programming, and it's involving you in the process. Eight comedy pilots are up at for you to watch and rate. Amazon will decide which ones to develop into full series based on the number of views, star rating, comments and a host of other factors. Right now they're free to watch, but once the series are picked up, they will only be available to Amazon Prime subscribers.

The pilots feature some big names (John Goodman, Bebe Neuwirth, Jeffrey Tambour) and two known entities ("Onion News Empire" and "Zombieland"). There are two animated comedies ("Supanatural" and "Dark Minions") and one musical ("Browsers"). And lots of raunchy humor, which -- unless I'm becoming a prude, which is entirely possible -- seems like an easy way to go after laughs these days. But there you have it.

Below are my thoughts on the pilots, ranked in order from what I most want to see picked up to least.