Tag Archives: Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles

Interview: Hell On Wheels Showrunner John Wirth

JohnWirthWhen veteran writer/producer John Wirth took over as showrunner on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, it was a somewhat strangely public process. John Shiban, the showrunner for the show’s first two seasons, backed out unexpectedly after the series was renewed, leading AMC to make the series’ pickup contingent on finding a new showrunner. With series creators Joe and Tony Gayton departing as well, Wirth stepped into a series with established characters, existing storylines, and more or less complete creative freedom to take the show in whatever direction he desired.

That direction has made the show a strange sort of success story for AMC, shuffled off to the prestige-less refuge of Saturday nights where it’s been quietly outperforming expectations (see Kate Aurthur’s report at Buzzfeed for more). It concludes its third season tonight at 9/8c on AMC with the expectation that it has earned a fourth season, and having successfully transitioned from a slightly underperforming prestige AMC drama to a successful translation of their film western audience into original programming on a normally dead night.

At July’s TCA Press Tour before the season premiered, I had a chance to talk to Wirth about his perspective on showrunning, how he came to be involved with Hell on Wheels, his planned use of social media (which I’ll be reflecting on soon elsewhere), and how—despite the strange circumstances—Hell On Wheels marks a meaningful period in his career as a showrunner-for-hire.

This is far from your first time serving as showrunner on a series; in fact, the Internet suggests you were part of a “Showrunner Training Program” at some point? How do you train someone to be a showrunner?

JW: I put together a committee of writer-producer-showrunner types. We did a small book called A Television Writers’ Handbook. And it was the first time in the history of the Writers’ Guild that anybody had codified what it is to work on a TV show and what the various positions are and what’s expected of you when you’re in those positions. And we had a big chapter on showrunners, and how to behave as a showrunner, and so forth.

Out of that, Jeff Melvoin—who I had asked to be a part of that committee—had the idea: is this something we could teach? And I didn’t believe that it was, and he believed that it was. He said “I’m going to try to put together this program, will you work on it with me? “And I said sure, but I don’t want to be in charge—this little book we did took five years, and I thought it would take a couple months.

We put together the Showrunner Training Program, which has been enormously successful. I still don’t believe you can teach someone to be a showrunner, but you can expose them to the things they’re going to experience when they are showrunners. That’s really the goal of that program, to let people know what it is they’re going to be experiencing when they get that job.

What’s that job like?

The job itself is ridiculous. You’re the hardest working man or woman in show business – the hours are incredible, you have to be a writer/producer and manager, you have to manage up down and sideways, you have to be a priest, you have to be a magician, you have to be a wife – it’s nutty.

So why you do you think AMC came to you to fill that job on Hell on Wheels?

JW: I think they got to the Ws in their rolodex and were like “Damnit!” Who’s after this guy? We’d better like him. Continue reading

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The Glass Ceiling: How Dollhouse can Overcome the Friday Odds

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The Glass Ceiling:

How Dollhouse can Overcome the Friday Odds

When FOX first announced that Dollhouse was going to be placed onto Fridays, I wrote the following:

My immediate response: seriously, FOX? Are we going to go through this again? After Whedon’s last FOX show, Firefly, was destroyed by mismanagement by FOX, fans of the creator have already had reason to be slightly concerned about the show’s trajectory. Now, with the creative side seemingly together, comes the next blow – that even when it does air, its opportunity for success has shrunk dramatically.

Now, since that point, both creator Joss Whedon and FOX have stuck to the line that this plan actually works out for them: by creating a night of male-skewing Sci-Fi on a night where FOX has historically gone with either repeats or reality programming, the show will have low expectations and a certain security thanks to not having the same type of time period competition as it would elsewhere on the schedule. By keeping expectations low, essentially, the show’s inevitable failure to attract the kind of audience that FOX might be looking for went from a crushing disappointment to an understanding between creator and network that time might be necessary.

Unfortunately for FOX and for Whedon, the results are in and they don’t look good: the show debuted to just 4.7 Million viewers and a 2.0 rating in the key demographics. The second number isn’t half bad, good enough for second in its timeslot, but the first number is a pretty big concern for the series. It’s about the same ratings that sent Firefly to the television graveyard before its time, actually, and the plan to try to create low expectations and then spin these ratings into something positive is somewhat tough to swallow when you get trounced by Supernanny on ABC.

But there’s a fair few factors that we need to take into account here, at least before we start writing off Dollhouse as a failure. Much as I believe the jury is still out after writing my own review of the premiere, I believe there is still time for Dollhouse to turn it around. Unfortunately, the universe might well be working against Joss Whedon and his fanbase once again.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles – “What He Beheld”

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“What He Beheld”

Season One, Episode Nine

Airdate: March 3rd, 2008

In the show’s second season, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles emerged as something quite surprising: a competent science fiction drama with a sense of character and a growing identity. So picking an episode to include in the Time Capsule to reflect this feels like it should come from the second half of the year.

But I kept going back to “What He Beheld,” the first season finale that convinced me the show was going to be capable of being something more than just an attempt to capture the franchise’s storylines in a serial dramatic setting.

The series has since gone on to delve into deep psychological issues, both of the humans within the story and the Terminators who coexist with them. But the sequence, set to Johnny Cash, of the various police officers being thrown aside by Cromartie was the one that showed me the show was aiming higher: what could have felt like an attempt at shocking the audience with violence was played entirely artistically. There was no sense that the show was exploiting their deaths, but capturing them in the most artful of ways: we see the pool’s stillness just as a body tears it apart. The apartment building setting isn’t designed for eye candy but the sharp contrast of the mundane living arrangement meeting with the trauma of the action involved.

The show’s second season has built on this development: it was one scene to begin with, but each subsequent episode has built on it. Yes, the show still has its down periods, and every now and then I think that its vague storyline could use some clarity, but Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles is everything Heroes wants to be:  a smart, sophisticated piece of science fiction that might not be Battlestar Galactica but certainly feels like the kind of show that, given time, could prove a worthwhile journey.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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Seriously, FOX? Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse to air on Fridays

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I don’t normally post news, but I figure this is frustrating enough to enjoy a bit more analysis outside of my Twitter feed. Ironically, it was through Twitter that the news was revealed to me. From FOXBroadcasting’s new twitter feed came the following:

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse launches Friday, February 13th

My immediate response: seriously, FOX? Are we going to go through this again? After Whedon’s last FOX show, Firefly, was destroyed by mismanagement by FOX, fans of the creator have already had reason to be slightly concerned about the show’s trajectory. Now, with the creative side seemingly together, comes the next blow – that even when it does air, its opportunity for success has shrunk dramatically.

The thing is, a lot more could have been done: FOX could have premiered the show behind an episode of American Idol, something that is increasingly common and that their other new drama, Lie to Me, is likely getting on January 21st. Nothing about this move seems even remotely like a network that is fully behind this show: and would premiering it a week early and avoiding the ominousness of Friday the 13th really have killed them?

I’m excited for Dollhouse, even as someone who outside of Firefly and Dr. Horrible is woefully behind on my Whedonverse viewing, but these signs keep popping up that this show is cursed. I don’t want to be a harbinger of ill-will towards the series’ fate, and I would love to feel more optimistic, but considering that repeats of NCIS and other crime procedurals are the shows performing best on Fridays something tells me that FOX’s attempt to rekindle The X-Files’ success in the timeslot a decade ago isn’t going to work…and if this means that Whedon’s fans are going to have to pick up FOX’s slack at promoting one of his series AGAIN, I don’t think this is the kind of deja vu the show is trying to discuss.

Below the jump, though, let’s take a look at what the rest of FOX’s January schedule brings us – to be honest, it’s quite reasonable, if frustrating for fans of the network’s science fiction dramas.

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Cultural Reflections on Comic Con 2008

While I’m genuinely addicted to Twitter most of the time, being away over the weekend and thus mostly away from my Twitter account was a good thing. Many of the people I follow, most of which I’ve met through some great times at the /Filmcast, were lucky enough to be out in San Diego, California for the biggest event in geekdom: Comic Con. My jealousy knows no bounds, as it sounds like an extremely exciting event that covers the gamut of entertainment.

Once mostly a haven for comic book adaptations and the like, the convention has taken on new life as pretty much “Any show that has fans on the internet or any kind of fantastical elements” when it comes to television presence. So this includes a show like The Big Bang Theory, which embraces its geek sensibilities on a regular basis, and a show like Prison Break that is really just there treating it as a fan convention in general terms. I won’t attempt to make an argument for the exclusion of such shows, though, because for the most part the convention has taken on a life of its own…and that life has brought a lot of new TV news to our attention.

Heroes

NBC’s highest rated drama series came to Comic Con with a devoted fan base to satisfy and a lot to prove to critical people like me who thought the second season was almost completely garbage. Perhaps realizing this task, they decided to placate both crowds and actually show the entire Season Three premiere. Now, some have commented that a show like Lost didn’t do anything similar (I’ll get to them in a minute), but Heroes has the added bonus of having started filming Season Three extremely early after NBC cut the second season short, so they’re in a unique position.

While I’m not reading the detailed recaps like Adam Quigley’s over at /Film or Dave3′s over at GeeksofDoom to avoid spoilers, there’s been positive word of mouth that this is, at least, better than last season’s entry (And perhaps better than the show’s pilot, which was kind of weak). I remain skeptical of Kring as a showrunner, though, and what I read of Adam’s review tends to indicate that the annoying dialogue and the tendency to delve into pointless subplots have not disappeared even as the quality elsewhere ramps up. Still, it’s a smart move to please both fans and critics alike, and once the pilot hits in September I’ll judge for myself whether they’ve got the quality to back it up.

Lost

While the lack of real Season Five footage (It doesn’t premiere for another 7 months, realistically) is certainly a bit of a downer, what Lost brings to the table is its usual blend of intrigue and mystery. While they weren’t there with new footage, they did have a new Orientation style video that seems a bit different. Although the YouTube link below is off a screen, it still seems to be higher quality than what we’ve used to. After the jump, I’ll go into some discussion on why this video has a LOT of ramifications (And is infinitely more interesting than an episode of Heroes).

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Upfronts Analysis: FOX 2008-2009 Fall Schedule

“A Subtle Improvement”

FOX 2008-2009 Fall Schedule

In the past, I’ve complained a lot about FOX’s scheduling practices – rather than using their biggest shows to produce strong lead-ins for new shows that need attention, they have instead chosen a path wherein they waste it on reality shows or (what I consider to be) derivative comedies. And really, their fall schedule is always a little bit of a crapshoot: considering that American Idol isn’t on it, FOX is kind of hoping for subtle success before its juggernaut wins the season outright in a few months time.

This time around, I admire their scheduling far more – sure, it isn’t perfect by any means, and they’re only debuting two new shows, but there’s a smart decision that signifies that FOX is no longer being idiots about how to handle their top shows, and to create hit new shows in their place.

New Shows

Fringe – Tuesdays at 9

It has a big-budget pilot, Lost producer J.J. Abrams on board, and most importantly has the best slot on the schedule: the newly created spot post-House on Tuesday nights. This is a smart way to create a lead-in, without question – the only concern is that the two-hour pilot will have to air without a lead-in, so I almost wonder if FOX will divide it in two just to make sure the show doesn’t get off on a weak foot. (Final details of the schedule sees Fringe airing its two-hour premiere on August 26th).

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