”Freaks” welcome! Dalton Ross dreams up a TV utopia
Something amazing happened the other day. Friday Night Lights was not only not canceled, but was given a full-season order by NBC. This is amazing because last time I checked, the show was pulling roughly the same amount of fans as this column, which is to say, not many. Actually, the last episode of FNL drew just under 6 million viewers. Just for some perspective, we talk about Lost and Survivor struggling when those programs pull in 15 to 17 million people, so 6 million? Well, it’s not exactly good. Those are the kind of numbers that get most shows canned.
But NBC refused to pull the plug, citing the critical raves as reason for the amnesty: ”We’re proud to reward an authentic, poignant series like Friday Night Lights with a full-season order, demonstrating our confidence in its appeal and quality,” said NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly. It was a surprising announcement on several levels. For one thing, did I mention that nobody — except me and a few loyal Glutton readers — are watching the damn show? For another, NBC just announced that it’s no longer going to be producing scripted programming in the 8 o’clock hour, which is precisely where FNL currently airs. And lastly, when have authenticity, poignancy, and quality ever made any difference in the decision as to whether to renew a TV show? If that had been the case, then would NBC really have brought back freakin’ Las Vegas?!? But I digress…
Shock waves were immediately sent throughout the industry at this bold decision. First, NBC followed up its announcement by saying that since quality is so gosh-darn important now, it is bringing back its humorous and heartfelt coming-of-age dramedy Freaks and Geeks (canceled back in 2000), now following the characters through their college years (or, in the case of Daniel Desario, his foray into the world of monster-truck driving). Not to be outdone, ABC jumped on the bandwagon and hastily called a press conference to announce that it is putting fellow one-season wonder My So-Called Life back on the air, assuming it can convince Jared Leto to stop applying copious amounts of eyeliner to his face. It also revealed plans to bring Sports Night back, although ”maybe without that Sorkin guy, since he doesn’t seem to be in the quality business anymore, judging by Studio 60.” (Ouch!)
After several internal meetings, CBS officially decided to pass on the newly dubbed ”Quality Initiative,” preferring instead to roll out 16 more versions of the CSI franchise, including CSI: Criminal Minds, a spin-off/crossover title in which Mandy Patinkin uses supercool gadgets to try to track down the six-fingered man. (I don’t understand it either.) For its part, The CW boldly decided to go the counterprogramming route, browsing the voluminous UPN and WB libraries before offering up a new ”Sunday Night Craptacular Block” of Homeboys in Outer Space and Shasta McNasty (which will be replaced in May sweeps by all new divorce-themed episodes of Britney & Kevin: Chaotic).
But all the networks were suddenly cowering in fear of the Fox network. Yes, the onetime home of Man Versus Beast, The Littlest Groom, and both Celebrity Boxing and Celebrity Boot Camp shockingly embraced the Quality Initiative head on, not only immediately canceling everything on its schedule not titled 24, American Idol, or The Simpsons, but also bringing back an entire roster of previously axed one-season wonders such as Undeclared, Firefly, The Tick, Harsh Realm, and even The Ben Stiller Show (although negotiations with Andy Dick are breaking down over the actor’s refusal to stop randomly licking off Jared Leto’s eyeliner). And instead of ‘Til Death, Happy Hour, and The O.C., Thursday nights on Fox are now ”Bluthtastic!,” according to the network, thanks to the immediate implementation of a weekly Arrested Development marathon. (Fearful of looking hypocritical in the face of its own commitment to quality, NBC has already released Jeffrey Tambor from the decidedly un-poignant Twenty Good Years to resume work on the revived Fox comedy.)
So, long live the network’s new commitment to excellence, and may it signal the dawn of a new… What’s that? It was only a dream? Oh. Then I guess I’ll go back to watching Ghost Whisperer.
OBSESSION OF THE WEEK
I wrote last week about my fear of hospital shows, but also mentioned that at the same time I can be a bit of a gore hound. Which I why I was so amped to receive a three-disc collector’s edition DVD of Park Chanwook’s Oldboy — complete with a graphic novel, film cell, and about 13,000 documentaries and bonus features. Oldboy is not a horror movie, but rather a very stylized Korean revenge tale with some super-gruesome scenes. It’s a pretty divisive film in the EW offices: Our movie critics, Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum, are not fans; movie reviews editor Marc Bernardin and I most assuredly are. For me, it’s not just the joy of seeing someone devour a live octopus; the shocking storyline and riveting performances are equally engrossing. But you be the judge. I implore each and every one of you who can handle seeing someone attacking a mob with a hammer to check this film out and take a side. Then you can tell Marc and me how right we are.
Martin Scorsese is back in the spotlight with The Departed doing well with both critics and audiences. Could this be the year that Marty finally wins the Oscar for Best Director? Beats me, but this is the week in which I give you The Top Five Martin Scorsese Movies Ever.
1) The King of Comedy (1983)
Often overlooked in the Scorsese canon, this dark comedy features unbelievable performances by De Niro (as obsessed stalker Rupert Pupkin) and Jerry Lewis as the late-night talk show host stalkee. Dark comedies don’t get any better than this.
2) Raging Bull (1980)
With the possible exception of The Set-Up, the best fight scenes ever put on film.
3) Taxi Driver (1976)
The movie that made me think New York was the scariest place is the world… and that Mohawks were cool.
4) Goodfellas (1990)
Yes, Joe Pesci, you amuse me. You make me laugh. You’re like a f—ing clown!
5) Casino (1995)
It originally came off as a bit of a Goodfellas clone, but gets better with repeated viewings. And who would have thought Sharon Stone could actually hold her own with De Niro?
Do I need therapy? Some of you readers think so after reading about my TV hospital phobia. But others shared my pain. And others still wrote about the genres of shows that they can’t stand to watch (with procedural crime dramas, laugh-track comedies, and Mob shows topping the list).
Yes! So glad I’m not the only one out there who can’t stand medical dramas. I just don’t find it entertaining to watch people bleed, vomit, or sob over a dead loved one in my spare time. Not only do I get all dizzy and nauseated, it just feels kind of creepy and voyeuristic to watch fake suffering when so many people suffer for real. Plus, shows like House are just too ooky. Exploding tongue?? No thanks! — S.H. Meehan
You know, the exploding-tongue thing actually has me a bit intrigued, but I would rather blow up my own tongue than have to watch people running down a corridor with a gurney yelling for 100 cc’s of anything. It’s just not worth it.
Hey, Dalton. Regarding your ”hospital fear,” what do you do when it comes to Scrubs? Ninety-five percent of it takes place in a hospital, but you do watch that, right? Just wonderin’. — Daniel Fidler
You weren’t the only one wondering, Daniel. Lots of you wanted to know my stance on Scrubs, and my stance is this: I love it! For some reason, the whole comedic aspect of the show washes away my fear like a nice, satisfying morphine drip.
Your phobia made me laugh hysterically. I don’t have a phobia, but I have an allergy to shows that deal at all with the Entertainment Business. I can’t stand them, they make me itch. I’m talking shows like Studio 60, or Entourage, which I have never seen. I once saw Sports Night, and although the writing was fine, just the thought that I was gonna get educated on the entertainment biz broke the romance of it all for me. But frankly, I just don’t find any of those shows, with actors playing actors, particularly compelling. Yes, I know acting is a difficult business — I know, because I am one — but please, actors are not the type of people I like to be when I am acting. I want to play that doctor with the cane, that police detective with a vendetta… hell, I want to play that guy lost on a mysterious island. But shows about the entertainment biz just screams narcissism to me. — Mozz
Mozz, that’s one of the main problems I had with Studio 60 — these entertainment types acting all ”We’re here to save the world!” about showbiz. Waaaaaaaaaaay too self-important. That said, I did love Sports Night, and for the most part I like Entourage — so while I can certainly understand people being sick of shows about the entertainment biz, I think like most genres on TV, there are both good and bad examples.
Dalton, I cannot watch sitcoms. There is nothing funny about them — nothing at all. Whether it’s watching a bunch of 20-somethings acting silly, or fat men with thin wives, there’s just nothing humorous about them. They’re just creepy. — Peggy Heath
Speaking of the fat guy?thin wife thing, EW’s Dan Snierson loves to mock my love of The King of Queens, but what can I say, Kevin James is funny! Standard laugh-track sitcoms appear to be gradually going the way of the dinosaur, and even single-camera comedies aren’t pulling in viewers much anymore. Personally, I still love The Office and find funny bits in My Name Is Earl, Help Me Help You, and any time Alec Baldwin is on screen in 30 Rock, but that’s pretty much it.
Can’t watch sports on TV — way too many commercials and sponsorships; ”This Ford Trucks fourth-down brought to you by the Crappy American Automobile Association.” Not to mention the terrible egotistical commentary that accompanies spectator sports — you can just imagine Joe Theismann looking in the mirror while he’s yapping. — Katherine Bolt
Sports broadcasts really are the worst when it comes to intrusive product placement and a ridiculous amount of commercial breaks. I much prefer taping football games and watching them later, the only problem being that inevitably some idiot will ignore my ”no contact” rule and call and spoil the result before I even get a chance to watch it. Which is why this season I have gone completely off the grid, instructing my wife to not even let me know who has called, lest that knowledge offer up some sort of clue as to the outcome of the games I am taping (which, it turns out, have mostly been losses, because my beloved Redskins suck so bad). As for the commentary, I had high hopes for Tony Kornheiser on Monday Night Football this year, but man, does he seem out of his element.
Dalton, there’s a pretty horrible 1984 movie (which I love and, uh, even bought on DVD) called Making the Grade, in which the incomparable Judd Nelson shows off his mad break-dancing skillz. Actually, his stunt double does the showing off, which is hilariously obvious. I don’t know which makes the scene more classic: the hideous pants he’s wearing or the close-up of Judd at the end of the dance — the ”Of COURSE I was really doing the dancing!” close-up. Tough call. — Amy M.
Amy, I literally just went to Netflix and put this in my queue (although I had to go back to the site three times just to make sure I spelled ”queue” correctly). As for other spectacular celebrity break-dancing, might I suggest you get your hands on Mr. T’s Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool, which features Mr. T busting out some super-dope movies (or you can check out this brief clip). You know what I’m thinking? Judd Nelson?Mr. T. break-off!!!
Have any other TV shows you’d like networks to bring back under their new Quality Initiative? Care to pick a side in the great EW debate over Oldboy? Or do you just want to curse me out for leaving After Hours off my best-of-Scorsese list? You can do all of the above by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or just fill out that handy-dandy form below. That’s why they put it there, people! One last parting note: I will be off for Thanksgiving next week, but will be back on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Have a good Turkey Day — and to all you vegetarians out there, don’t forget to sink your teeth into my delicious new Paul McCartney Meatless Turkey. Why eat a real turkey, when you can simply… let it be? (Now if that doesn’t finally bring on a lawsuit, I don’t know what will.)