Turning Over the Keys: Musical Guests in Reality Competition Programming
July 9th, 2010
LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat in the fall isn’t half as interesting as his choice (nay, demand) to announce this decision on live television after twenty-eight minutes of hilariously awful build-up in which television sports journalism lost a great deal of credibility. Frankly put, ESPN had no idea how to string together a show around such a crass act of self-promotion, which to their credit isn’t a particularly easy task: this was an hour-long special built around a ten second announcement, taking what could have been some interesting pre-decision and post-decision analysis and blanketing it with hyperbole about how this will forever change the game of basketball. This wasn’t ESPN covering LeBron James (which has become nauseous in and of itself), but ESPN turning itself over to LeBron James, which at the very least will have media scholars talking for a long time (or, about as long as it took Jim Gray to actually ask LeBron the question of the night).
And in what is the most shameless segue you’re likely to see all week, this same problem of “turning one’s self over” plagues reality competition programming (oh yes, I went there). For shows like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and So You Think You Can Dance, it’s necessary for time purposes to turn over part of their results shows to a musical guest or some other type of performer who kills some time, promotes their record/show, and moves on with their life. These performances can occasionally be quite interesting, but the fact remains that there’s a tension between the narrative unfolding (the elimination of a contestant, in most instances) and the musical performance, and watching tonight’s So You Think You Can Dance (which, in my defence, I watched immediately after tuning out from “The Decision” at the half-hour mark) a few thoughts came to mind about how shows work to keep these musical performances from seeming disconnected from the series itself.
ABC Fall Schedule 2009-2010
May 19th, 2009
ABC is the one network this year whose strategy appears to be “let’s order a ridiculous number of new shows,” which is really quite interesting in this economic climate. The network isn’t in a bad position, per se, but its been through a rough development patch where this past year brought the failure of three out of four of its major sophomore series (Private Practice being the only survivor) as well as the failure of all but one of its midseason replacements (Castle being the only one who managed to pull it together, and even then only with the support of the Dancing with the Stars lead-in). Their staple shows have remained fairly strong, with Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters all remaining solid performers despite industry-wide drops in ratings, but they were in need of some new blood.
Their solution, however, is going to be a rather interesting experiment, especially when we consider the way in which the network is programming those new series, and just how many of them they have working for them: ordering a mix of legal, procedural, and science fiction dramas on top of four (count ’em) four new comedies, the network is banking on people being ready to laugh and, more importantly, to embrace shows in the 10pm timeslot with NBC out of the running.
Let’s take a gander at the highlights, shall we?
Last year, during this important period of the pre-Emmy festivities, I had a bit more time to really delve into some key issues. This year, things are busier, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to make some prognostications about the end results. I’m going to be discussing more themes and the like tomorrow in my Emmy Preview, but for now let’s get to what we really care about: predicting who is actually going to walk home with Emmy Awards.
Outstanding Drama Series
- Boston Legal (ABC)
- Damages (FX)
- Dexter (Showtime)
- House (FOX)
- Lost (ABC)
- Mad Men (AMC)
There is some wiggle room here, as each some has something (Pedigree, viewership, buzz, etc.) that makes it stand out, but there is nothing on this list quite as emphatically received and, more importantly, different from your standard fare than Mad Men. I’ll discuss more of this tomorrow, but its combination of a small network, a small fanbase, fresh-faced actors and its attention to detail will be unstoppable.
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
- James Spader (Boston Legal)
- Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
- Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
- Hugh Laurie (House)
- Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
- Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
This is a category where only one thing is important: that James Spader finally loses. Either Hamm, C. Hall or Laurie are in a position to usurp last year’s winner, and I’ve got my money on Michael C. Hall. After getting snubbed here last year, and with his show in the big race, voters might choose to recognize his brave and fantastic performance even when the show itself loses them with its dark atmosphere. But, this is maybe the night’s most up in the air race.
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
- Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
- Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)
- Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
- Glenn Close (Damages)
- Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
This race, however, is not up in the air at all. Its highly serialized nature and red herring use might keep it from being the best drama series on television, but there is no way that Emmy Voters can ignore Close’s pedigree with such a richly portrayed character (even if I’d argue that character isn’t nearly as important as voters might think it is to the show’s success).