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Sharknado 2 at TCA: Legitimating the Sharknado

Sharknado2In the past few weeks, I’ve been highly skeptical regarding Sharknado 2: The Second One.

In truth, I have no strong emotional investment in Sharknado 2. I watched the first Sharknado a good week or so after it first aired, and so I missed the social media fever and ended up finding the film itself…dull. Sharknado is not a particularly engaging film—even by B-Movie (or C-Movie or whatever we’re calling it) standards—when it is removed from the context of the Twitter commentary generated around it. And yet you wouldn’t know that given how Syfy has fully committed to Sharknado as an ongoing franchise, diving into licensing opportunities and treating this as a huge cultural phenomenon based entirely on social media fever despite a fundamental lack of evidence anyone other than people on Twitter care about Sharknado (which didn’t make it a failure, but does keep it from being a definitive mainstream hit).

It’s specifically reminded me of the release of Snakes on a Plane: the online fan base that emerged around the film convinced New Line to add new footage and push the film for an R rating, but then the film was a huge box office disappointment, and even failed to generate any significant cult following on DVD. It was a cult film in reverse: rather than struggling to find an audience then building a community of people unearthing a forgotten gem, the cult audience latched onto the film quickly but built a set of expectations that the film couldn’t live up to, and that killed that cult audience potential before it could develop into a long-term commodity. I’ve been convinced for weeks that all of the money Syfy is spending to push Sharknado as something more than a slightly more resonant movie-of-the-week has the risk of throwing good money after a bad movie that won’t sustain this level of franchise-building.

And yet when I arrived poolside at the Beverly Hilton hotel for Syfy’s Sharknado 2 screening event as part of NBC Universal’s TCA presentation, I began to feel somewhat differently. The notion of Syfy bringing one of its monster movies to a press tour was absurd before Sharknado, and yet it felt perfectly natural for the critics to be gathering together to laugh their way through Ian Ziering and Tara Reid’s latest encounter with shark-related weather events. Themed as a drive-in theater, complete with popcorn and car-themed couches and drive-in-style speakers, it was not just “Sharknado at Press Tour”: it was Sharknado as a marquee event, one that brings the channel the very legitimacy this type of movie kept them from achieving in the past.

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What Does TNT Know, Again?: On The Fate of Men of a Certain Age

On The Fate of TNT’s Men of a Certain Age

July 11th, 2011

It hasn’t exactly been a secret that critics are fans of TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, but the simultaneous posting of two independent articles from prominent critics (HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall and AOL’s Maureen Ryan) defending the series against a potential cancellation has certainly cemented the show as this year’s critics’ cause.

For the record, I’m with both Alan and Mo regarding the show: the back half of the second season was maybe its strongest stretch to date, taking each character on a distinct journey that always felt controlled more by the ebbs and flows of life than by the machinations of plot development. The finale, in particular, was narratively complex while staying true to the characters and their relationships. It was about Joe’s relationship with his children, Owen’s relationship with his father, and Terry’s relationship with his past, as much as it was about golf, car dealerships, and career paths. It was a hopeful finale, perhaps, but it was not one that offered any sort of ending. In fact, I don’t know if this is a show that can truly have an ending given its focus on lives being lived.

Of course, Alan and Mo’s posts exist because the show is low-rated, and TNT is not a network known for its low-rated shows. In fact, given that Alan and Mo have covered the show’s strengths so well already, I’m actually more interested in the TNT side of this equation. A network that has staked its reputation on “We Know Drama,” TNT has found great success with quasi-serial procedurals like The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles (which both return tonight), and recently greenlit a second season for its sci-fi drama Falling Skies.

When people appeal to a network to save a show, there needs to be some sort of justification. For Chuck it was product placement and a willingness to make budget concessions, while for Friday Night Lights it was an off-network distribution deal with DirecTV. Other networks, meanwhile, are in such dire shape that they can’t afford to cancel shows with a heartbeat (NBC, I am looking at you). With TNT, though, you have a stable and consistently-performing network that seems immune to the vast majority of “Save our Show” logics, except for the one that critics help manage.

And the one that remains loosely defined for TNT.

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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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Papacy without Purpose: A Review of Showtime’s The Borgias

Papacy without Purpose: Showtime’s The Borgias

April 3rd, 2011

Things do come in threes, don’t they?

As critics across the country confront a trio of drama series which all fall into the broad category of costume drama (albeit with some divergence in terms of additional variation), comparisons are inevitable. While I have yet to check out Starz’s Camelot (in part because I fear what they’ve done to Malory’s Morte, and in part because I just haven’t had the time), I watched the first four episodes (two of which debut Sunday night at 9/8c) of Showtime’s The Borgias after having watched the first six episodes of Game of Thrones over the course of the previous day, and…well, it was not a helpful comparison for the Showtime series.

I’ll have more on Game of Thrones in the days ahead, but I actually think that The Borgias is worth some time – while it starts slow and struggles to find a particular “purpose” as a result, there are moments which betray an actual interest in exploring the political complexities which result from the Borgia family’s winding path to power. The problem is that they are both too infrequent and too brief, giving way to a paint-by-numbers historical costume drama which fills in the blanks instead of coloring outside the lines.

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