Tag Archives: True Blood

Winter Comes Early: Access, Game of Thrones and HBO Go

Winter Comes Early: Access and HBO Go

May 22nd, 2011

When HBO announced that they would be premiering the seventh episode of Game of Thrones‘ first season on HBO Go immediately following the conclusion of episode six, I was more fascinated than excited.

I think HBO Go is a really interesting initiative that has the potential to play an important role in the future of the channel’s programming. Not only does it offer a new platform in which users can legally access the network’s database almost in its entirety, but it also creates new potential for special features being integrated into the weekly viewing process, and makes the network’s content more readily mobile. When I talked with my cable company to subscribe to HBO earlier today (after having relied solely on screeners to this point), the friendly customer service representative had a whole spiel about HBO Go ready to go, and was clearly using it as a pitch to draw in potential subscribers.

Premiering an episode early is a great way to make users more aware of the service, especially when dealing with the Game of Thrones fanbase who might not normally be HBO subscribers (and who might have only signed up this week, having relied on nefarious methods to this point in the series’ run); if they go to the site to watch episode seven early, they might also check out the pilot for True Blood, and might get hooked enough that they maintain their HBO subscriptions following the Game of Thrones finale.

However, there lies a central concern with HBO Go that makes this kind of initiative somewhat problematic: as a result of the nascent state of the site, a number of cable providers have not been able to strike deals with HBO to feature the service, and since it is tied directly into your cable account this means that a large number of people who are paying for HBO subscriptions do not have access to this sneak preview. While there is clear value from a promotional point of view in an initiative like this one, I do wonder if the way in which it divides the series’ fanbase and potentially bifurcates the conversation surrounding the series doesn’t demonstrate the perils of messing around with serialization in this fashion.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama and Comedy Series

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama and Comedy Series

June 1st, 2010

What’s weird about predicting the Emmy nominations (which are on July 8th, for the record) is that it really doesn’t have anything to do with quality: sure, a bad season can certainly hurt your chances at getting an Emmy, and a good season is sure to be of some assistance, but the objective quality of a series doesn’t really matter until they’re nominated. Until that point, it’s one big popularity contest, combining old habits, much-hyped new series, and those nominees who seem particularly newsworthy.

This is why it’s possible to predict the nominees, or at least the long-list of contenders who could logically garner a nomination on July 8th, before the eligibility period even ends (which isn’t really that big a deal this year, as any series which aired the majority of its season before the deadline [like Breaking Bad] will still be able to submit their concluding episodes). And while it may seem a bit premature, I’m pretty Emmy obsessive, and wanted to take some time this week to run down the potential nominees in each category. In the case of the series and acting categories, I’ll single out some who I believe are guaranteed nominations, while I’ll likely be less able to do so with Writing and Directing (which are often much less predictable, outside of a few exceptions).

We’ll start with Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series today, both because they’re a bit easier to handicap and because they’re the “big” races. They’re also the categories where I’m willing to put money down on a majority of the nominees, leaving only a few spots remaining for the other series to fight over in the months ahead.

And what a fight it’s going to be.

[Before we start, hats off to the great work of the Gold Derby forum members, especially moderator Chris "Boomer" Beachum, whose work continues to make projects like this a lot easier. Check out their Official 2010 Emmy Campaign Submissions thread for a full list of submitted nominees; you'll end up there for at least a half hour before you realize how much time has elapsed.]

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The Cultural Catchup Project: Love is a Battlefield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Love is a Battlefield”

April 17th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

“When I said you could slay vampires and have a social life, I didn’t mean at the same time.”

Early in a first season, the goal of any television series is to get viewers interested in the stories unfolding. This sounds really simple at first, but there’s a lot of different ways this goal is achieved: some shows simply keep retelling the same basic story in an effort to draw in new viewers as the season moves forward, while other shows try to tell as many different types of stories as possible in order to convince viewers that unpredictable and expansive are two very important adjectives in judging a new series.

However, what I’m finding really interesting about Buffy is that it seems to be both patient and impatient, willing to spend time on what one would consider “throwaway” episodes in “Witch” and “Teacher’s Pet” but then shifting gears entirely by diving head first into the complexities of the Angel mythos with two of the following episodes (“Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” and “Angel”). Rather than these two episodes each feeling like an individual component of the series’ premise being revealed, “Never Kill a Boy…” and “Angel” are really like a two-parter (divided by “The Pack,” which was pretty nondescript and “standalone”): the first establishes the challenges of living a double life, while the second extends that particular theme to a more interesting and thematically complex place.

It’s a place that I know is the starting point for a fairly major component in the rest of the series, but I admit to being a little bit distracted by how its meaning has been altered by new points of reference that have emerged in the thirteen years since the episodes aired.

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What’s my Genre Again?: The In(s)anity of the Saturn Awards

The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films comes together every year to recognize the best in genre entertainment (in both film and television) at the Saturn Awards. This is, at least in my view, a noble endeavour, and the awards have offered a space where shows like Battlestar Galactica and movies like The Dark Knight have been awarded deserved prizes that may not have been awarded at the Emmys or Oscars thanks to what is considered a bias against genre entertainment in general.

The problem is that, over time, the Saturn Awards have stretched the meaning of genre so far that it legitimately has no meaning, welcoming both genuine confusion and some outright derision based on some of their categories. The sheer volume of nominees and the rather ridiculous range of categories means that this year the Saturn Awards skew dangerously close to the Oscar while simultaneously veering dangerously towards an opposite and unflattering direction, while on the Television side their definition of what defines as genre may be the most confounding awards show process I’ve ever confronted, as demonstrated by this year’s nominees.

Rather than seeming like a legitimate celebration of science fiction, fantasy or horror, the Saturn Awards read like an unflattering and at points embarrassing collection of films and television series which reflect not the best that genre has to offer, but rather a desperate attempt to tap into the cultural zeitgeist while masquerading as a celebration of the underappreciated.

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Equal Treatment: SAG delivers Disappointing TV Nominations

The other day, I tore into the Golden Globes for being star fetishists, arguing that their choices reflect a clear lack of interest in actually honouring the best in television (when Entourage is your default, there is something very wrong). However, I think sometimes we pick on the Golden Globes so much that we forget that other award shows which actually have some shred of credibility are just as capable of proving disappointing.

And so I feel I need to provide equal treatment, and criticize the Screen Actors’ Guild for a bizarre set of nominations (click the link to read if you want to know all of the context for the below rant) which seem to indicate that they’re not actually watching television at the moment. While the rut SAG has fallen into is less egregious than that of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, its relative credibility makes its shame a definite disappointment during this end of year awards season.

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Casting the Nominees: AFI and the Golden Globes

When the American Film Institute delivered their list of the Top 10 Television Series of 2009, with critics Maureen Ryan, Brian Lowry and Matt Roush on the jury with CCH Pounder and David Milch, you start to realize that any sort of representative Top 10 is about casting a diverse group of shows which offer an objective spectrum of the television world.

The result, if we look down AFI’s list, is choices which may be more representative than they are substantive, more recognizable than entirely creatively successful. And, accordingly, we could “label” each show as filling a particular niche, if not necessarily filling it as well as another show in our personal opinions.

  • “The Big Bang Theory [Newly minted "hit"]
  • “Big Love [Transcendent Season]
  • “Friday Night Lights [New business model]
  • “Glee [New series]
  • “Mad Men [Unquestionable Quality]
  • “Modern Family [New series]
  • “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency [Int'l Co-production]
  • “Nurse Jackie [Dramedy]
  • “Party Down [Underground sensation]
  • “True Blood” [Fan Favourite]

You could replace a show like Big Love with Breaking Bad, or a show like Party Down with Better Off Ted, or Modern Family with Community, or Nurse Jackie with United States of Tara, and the list would ostensibly be the same. And in some ways, when you have the huge range of great television available at the moment, this is all that a small jury can do: use their own subjective analysis to craft a list objective in its diversity, trying to capture the trends and the series which helped define the year in television. We’d all swap out a few shows here or there (as the discussion on Twitter decided, Parks and Recreation is the big name that deserves to be here), but I don’t think anyone can argue the list is a failure (especially considering the fantastic mention of Starz’s Party Down).

However, when the Golden Globes casts its nominations tomorrow morning in the television field, its choices are far more indiscernible, its criteria limited to whatever happens to strike the fancy of the mysterious Hollywood Foreign Press Association. And in most cases that is “the new,” those shows which are new and hip and tapping into the cultural zeitgeist. Combined with the existence of “Comedy and Musical” categories, Glee seems like a sure bet to break through into this year’s awards, but with such a wide range of new shows it’s hard to know which will happen to match the Globes’ casting call.

I like analyzing the Emmys because you understand the nomination process, and can delve into individual performances in predicting who might grab a nomination. However, with the Globe, there is so little logic involved that all you can do is have no expectation of quality and be glad that you live in a time zone where the awards are nominated at a decent time (or, at least that’s what I do). Daniel Fienberg at HitFix has more patience with the awards than I do, and has a detailed analysis of every category, but I just can’t bring myself to predict the unpredictable.

I can, however, bring myself to watch the nominations at 5:30 pacific (that’s 8:30 eastern, and 9:30 for me) tomorrow morning to see just what those crazy folks at the HFPA are up to this year, especially since the show itself is a must watch with Ricky Gervais hosting.

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2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis: Power to the People?

Emmy2009Title

Power to the People?

2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis

The people have the power, and the people have pretty darn good taste.

That’s the story out of this year’s Emmy award nominations (click here for Cultural Learnings’ list, and here for the Academy’s) where a few key surprises and a couple of major snubs indicate that the popular vote was not in any capacity an absolutely travesty for the Academy, as some quite logically predicted. I spoke earlier this week about just what the definition of popular would end up indicating, and the answer appears to be a healthy combination of an appreciation of great television and an eye for trendy selections. The result is an Emmys where nearly every category has a silver lining, and where a few snubs are not enough to give the impression that there’s going to be some very deserving winners in this field.

Mad Men and 30 Rock Dominate

There is no surprise here, don’t get me wrong: no one expected the iron grip of these two shows to stop after dominating last year’s proceedings. However, the scale of that domination is quite ludicrous. 30 Rock has 10 acting nominations, 4 writing nominations, 3 directing nominations, plus its nod for Best Comedy Series and all of its other technical nods. The result is an absolutely staggering number of nominations, and I’m happy about it: I like seeing Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer and Jane Krakowski all get nominations for their work along with Fey and Baldwin, and although the four writing nominations kept other shows out of the running they are four pretty fantastic episodes.

Mad Men, meanwhile, didn’t add quite as many nods, although it did pick up a Lead Actress nomination for Elisabeth Moss, which makes me extremely happy. As I said in my preview, I really expected January Jones in the category, but I prefer Moss’ less showy role at the end of the day. Still, combine with Hamm (also nominated for his guest stint on 30 Rock) and Slattery returning (I’d have preferred Kartheiser, but I’ll take it), and its own four writing nominations (plus a directing nod), and the show is without a doubt dominating on the drama side of things.

Out with the “Popular,” In with the Popular

In the biggest shocker of all considering the popular vote, the Comedy Series category had one shocking exclusion and one suprising (but oft predicted) inclusion. The exclusion is the most popular comedy on television, in terms of viewers - Two and a Half Men failed to secure a comedy nod, something it has done in years previous. This makes me question the definition of popular, especially with the inclusion – Family Guy, the first animated comedy series since The Flintstones to make it into the category. While The Simpsons always chose to compete in the Animation category because it also reflects the work of the animators, Family Guy chose to cut out the animated part and compete with the big boys, and it paid off. However, unlike last year where they could submit their Star Wars special in order to get credit for the animators, this year they’re left off entirely, so MacFarlane’s ego is being boosted at the expense of the show’s direction.

The Sophomores Triumph

No one was quite sure what would happen with Breaking Bad, a second year show that won Emmys last year but without much support around it. Well, we have our answer: although snubbed out of both directing and writing, the series picked up a nomination for Drama Series, and Aaron Paul snuck into the highly competitive Supporting Actor (Drama) category for his work on the show, in addition to Bryan Cranston’s nomination for Lead Actor. Damages also impressed, delivering nominations for William Hurt (undeserved, but whatever), Rose Byrne, Glenn Close, Ted Danson (Guest), as well as Series and Directing nods.

The Freshmen Fail

True Blood had a real shot at some awards love, but it was empathically shut out of the proceedings: it’ll probably contend with United States of Tara for best Title Sequence, but with no Drama Series or Lead Actress love, it’s clear the Emmys didn’t find its vampire story appealing. That’s unfortunate for the show, but it’s a trend: no Freshman series broke into the series categories, and only Simon Baker (The Mentalist) and Toni Colette (United States of Tara) made their way into the major categories.

HBO “Domination”

In a popular vote, nobody quite knew where HBO would end up, but the answer is in far better shape than people anticipated – although Mad Men and Breaking Bad have AMC as the new “it” network, HBO is still holding some cache. Not only did Big Love score a huge surprise nomination as the 7th contender in the Drama Series race, but Flight of the Conchords is honestly the biggest story of the awards. With a Comedy Series nomination, a shocking Lead Actor nomination for Jemaine Clement, plus both writing and directing nominations, the show blew onto the radar like it wasn’t struggling with growing pains in its second season. While everyone saw the show’s Carol Brown getting an Original Song nod, the love wasn’t anticipated. The network also performed well with In Treatment, which missed the Drama Series race but picked up three acting nods (Byrne, Davis, Wiest).

The Year of How I Met Your Mother

I let out an extremely girlish “Yay,” nearly dropping my computer, when How I Met Your Mother was listed as one of the nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series (and I even predicted it!). I know it has no chance in the category, but its nomination is a vindication of the highest order that voters went with the popular vote, and that it jumped from not even being in the Top 10 to being in the Top 7. I call it the Year of HIMYM, though, because Neil Patrick Harris has an open door to pick up an Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Comedy – long live Barney Stinson.

After the jump: Surprises! Snubs! Etc.!

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2009 Emmy Awards Nominations Predictions: The Tale of the Tape

Emmy2009Title

The Tale of the Tape

July 15th, 2009

Heading into tomorrow morning’s nominations (5:30 Pacific Time, so 8:30 Eastern and 9:30 for me in the Atlantic time zone), there are a few certainties, and a few question marks. I talked before about the uncertainty of the popular vote, which places a show like Lost somewhere in between an equilibrium of popular shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy and more critical/industry favourites like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Here, it’s tie to take a look at some of the big stories that could emerge from the nominations, as well as a glimpse at some of the categories that I didn’t get to during the week. So, let’s get the Tale of the Tape.

Mad Men = The New Sopranos?

Last year, Mad Men racked up an Emmy for Drama Series, a nomination for Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and five other statues (including Writing for Matthew Weiner). The question now really comes down to just how much the show’s second season is going to increase those odds. Chances are that one of the show’s two leading women will break through, now much more household names when it comes to the show’s success, and there’s room for more supporting players at well. If it follows the Sopranos pattern, it could break through big – if it, however, gets held back by being on AMC, it could end up with roughly the same nominations.

The Year of CBS?

It may be unlikely, with far more popular shows in terms of Hollwood and the Emmys in the category, but How I Met Your Mother is at the point where its breakout year might be upon us. Neil Patrick Harris is hosting, the show’s ratings have solidified it as a hit in its own right, and it is no longer in fear of cancellation which makes it seem like the kind of show that will be around for a while. It has to compete with stablemate The Big Bang Theory, which has Jim Parsons breaking out in a big way, and Two and a Half Men, but that two more legitimate Emmy contenders than the network had a year ago (and, in my mind, two more than it should have, but that’s neither here nor there). Combine with a chance for The Mentalist’s Simon Baker, and CBS is maybe not just the people’s network anymore.

Breaking Bad Breaking Through?

Last year, Bryan Cranston won in a bit of a shocker in the Lead Actor category for his work on the other AMC drama, Breaking Bad. Many have taken that win and viewed it as a sign that the show, which got even better in its second season, has a chance of breaking through in its own right. I’m of the mind that it will, but Cranston’s win was as much for his lack of a win for Malcolm in the Middle than it was for his brave performance, so it will be interesting to see if the show can join Cranston in the Emmy race. It has the benefit of having aired fairly recently, but it’s yet to be seen if it can break through on the popular vote.

The Final Chance for Battlestar Galactica

A real chance of breaking into the Drama Series race, or the various acting categories, just isn’t in the cards; Battlestar Galactica may have had an amazing finale, and its actors may have stepped up more than ever before, but in a popular vote competition it just isn’t going to get the support it needs. Mary McDonnell is going to get pushed out of her category, although remains a long shot candidate if things get really weird, but the show’s real chance lies in both writing and direction. There’s probably room in those categories for Ronald D. Moore and Michael Rymer, as they’ve been represented before, so it will be interesting to see if they can pick up those nods. They’ll also dominate the special effects categories, with the Visual Effects team easily picking up their third Emmy.

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2009 Emmy Award Predictions: Outstanding Drama Series

Emmy2009Title

Outstanding Drama Series

Predictions

Last year, the big story in the Outstanding Drama Series category was the presence of three shows that broke down barriers for cable: Showtime’s Dexter was the channel’s first ever nominee in the category, and both FX’s Damages and eventual winner AMC’s Mad Men were the first ever basic cable series to make their way into television’s biggest category.

This year, the story is a little bit more muddled, as the return of a popular vote-only category raises questions about whether Dexter and Damages can make it back into the big dance competing against the juggernauts like House and Grey’s Anatomy. For shows like Damages and perennial nominee Boston Legal, that relied on showy episodes to sway the blue-ribbon panels, their popular support remains untested, which could lead to some surprises.

Mad Men is a lock to return to defend its title after a strong second season, while Lost’s popular support and the quality of its fifth season should be enough to grab a nomination. The real suspense will come down to whether some shows sitting at the edges might be able to make it in: Breaking Bad had a strong second season, aired very recently, and Bryan Cranston won Best Actor last year and is likely to be nominated again; The Wire broke the Top 10 with its final season, so perhaps The Shield could do the same; new shows True Blood and The Mentalist try to overcome mixed critical responses with their impressive ratings; 24 has been out of the running for a year, and even then was pretty well out of the running with its drop in quality.

Personally, my heart is with Battlestar Galactica, which is in its final year of Emmy eligibility. However, that’s a long shot that’s quite tough to predict when it’s going to come down to popular vote, and until my heart starts giving out Emmy Awards I guess Ronald D. Moore and company are out of luck in the big dance.

Predictions for Outstanding Drama Series

  • Breaking Bad
  • Dexter
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • House
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

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2009 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Emmy2009Title

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Predictions

Like with Lead Actor, chances are there are going to be a lot of familiar faces in this category, as veteran actresses in showy roles are unlikely to disappear from last year’s ballot. The difference here, though, is a bit more uncertainty in terms of how the popular vote will fall and who will benefit from the extra spot and someone potentially dropping from the category.

Glenn Close, who won last year for Damages, is a lock for another nomination, as are Sally Field and Kyra Sedgwick who will remain perennial nominees at this stage. This leaves three spots, which could go in a number of directions. The safest bet may be to give two of them to last year’s nominees, Mariska Hargitay and Holly Hunter. However, I have an odd feeling about Hunter, and Hargitay is one who I think benefited more from screeners than she may have from the popular vote, which creates some opportunity for some new blood.

While that may seem like a logical segue into another actress, I think the most likely individual is January Jones. Mad Men’s ladies were entirely unrepresented last year, a sin considering how great they are, but this year one would expect either Jones or Elisabeth Moss to break through. The reason Jones is the obvious choice is that Moss really had her big storyline in the first season; she was great in the second season, and part of me prefers her to Jones, but there is something iconic about Betty Draper and her connection with her husband (guaranteed nominee Jon Hamm) that is likely to pull voters towards her.

Also circling is Mary McDonnell, whose portrayal of President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica reportedly made the Top 10 last year. It’s a showy role, and SciFi did their best to remind voters that this is their last chance to nominate her for her stellar work. At the same time, it’s still a science fiction series, and the emotion of her final scenes in “Daybreak” or her anger in “The Hub” are more powerful for fans than voters.

Speaking of fans, Anna Paquin has to be considered a contender; no, winning the Golden Globe doesn’t mean anything when it’s a Golden Globe, but she’s a former Oscar winner (if you haven’t seen The Piano, do so immediately) and the show has garnered a real following and has HBO backing its campaign. The show’s a bit too campy in order to break into the series race, but Paquin’s character shows some skin, has an accent (a bad one, but still), and has highly emotional storylines – that’s a solid recipe for Emmy.

Also on the periphery: Jeanne Tripplehorn, who is now the only of Big Love’s wives to be submitting in the category, Patricia Arquette, who continues to garner attention for newly-relocated Medium, and Jill Scott, whose Botswana-shot No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was well-received critically and where she has a highly dramatic, engaging performance that could sneak in under the radar. I’m aware that she’s a definite long shot compared to former Oscar nominees slumming in television, but sometimes doing predictions I get bored and want to go out on a limb.

Predictions for Lead Actress in a Drama

  • Glenn Close (“Damages”)
  • Sally Field (“Brothers & Sisters”)
  • January Jones (“Mad Men”)
  • Anna Paquin (“True Blood”)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”)
  • Jill Scott (“No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”)

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