September 19, 2016 · 5:19 pm
The 2016 Emmys were, quite objectively, a well-produced show.
They came in on time, helped by a couple of absent acting winners. They included a meaningful number of surprises, including wins for young stars Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), to help offset the predictable series wins for Veep and Game Of Thrones. They had a dynamic host in Jimmy Kimmel, who managed the combination of prepared bits and contextual quips admirably. They had a diverse array of winners, and Academy president Bruce Rosenblum used his speech to call attention to below-the-line workers, bringing out two craft winners from the Creative Arts ceremonies for a deserved round of applause. They even managed to find a way to mount specific In Memoriam tributes to television greats—the Garrys, Shandling and Marshall—without making the evening too somber. While there are winners I’d quibble with, there was nothing in the narrative of the evening that to me demonstrates a failing on the part of the producers.
The 2016 Emmys were also, objectively, the lowest-rated ever.
This dichotomy has to be frustrating for producers, who put on a show that I would identify as a successful celebration of television as a medium, but who were summarily punished for that. And so as CBS prepares to mount its latest version of the Emmys next year, the question becomes whether or not parties involved believe that there is a need to change the central goals of the Emmys to draw larger audiences.
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Filed under Award Shows, Emmy Awards, Uncategorized
Tagged as 2016, ABC, Analysis, Awards, CBS, Emmy Awards, Emmys, Ratings, Review
December 6, 2013 · 11:35 am
The Sound of Music Live is officially a ratings success by nearly every metric imaginable, with the records—Highest rated non-sports Thursday in the demo since ER finale! Most watched non-sports Thursday since the Frasier finale! First time NBC has won five straight nights of primetime since 2002!—flying fast as the magnitude of its success becomes clearer.
I enjoyed The Sound of Music Live. It didn’t actually work as a case of storytelling, harmed by uneven performances by its two leads, but I also think that a lot of those problems were inherent to the medium in which the musical was being experienced. That Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer were unable to sell me on a relationship that I can imagine feeling rushed in 90% of performances of this musical is far from history’s greatest failure; instead, it’s a noble effort that created some decidedly powerful images and a few too many scenes of people speaking lines instead of expressing sentiments. Said problems were better overcome by the three musical theater veterans cast around the two leads—Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and Christian Borle—and on the whole I would say that I enjoyed the experience both as a social media event and as a unique and ultimately fun television program.
It is also—based on reports in The Hollywood Reporter from earlier this week—likely to fail to meet all of the expectations placed on it by NBC, because I find it difficult to imagine a scenario whereby The Sound of Music Live becomes an evergreen holiday performer in the way Robert Greenblatt imagined it could.
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October 23, 2013 · 10:02 am
Over the past year or so, I’ve engaged with what I would call a friendly feud with the Cancellation Bear, the—as far as we know—fictional mascot of ratings site TV By The Numbers. In truth, I have no substantive beef with the Bear or its overlords as individuals, but the Bear and I disagree on a number of issues tied to how ratings are reported and enjoy the occasional repartee. I will admit that it’s a silly thing, filled with wildly exaggerated responses—reflected in this Wanted poster—and certainly among the simpler, more juvenile pleasures one can partake in.
However, over the past year, my feud with @TheCancelBear has been tinged with a degree of legitimate concern for the state of the discourse. Originally, the feud emerged from an ambivalent relationship with the site and its approach to ratings reporting. The site’s role in making ratings data both highly visible and highly accessible makes it a valuable tool for teaching about and researching the television industry, but the Cancellation Bear represents the site’s other role: actively inciting fear and uncertainty among fans of series struggling in the ratings in an effort to both drive traffic and—especially in the past two years—crusade against what they see as “fan excuses” that have no traction compared to their sure-fire prognostications. The former has helped make it possible for a “ratings culture” to exist; the latter has made that “ratings culture” unnecessarily combative and unpleasant.
This ambivalence resulted in a rather epic conversation myself and Tyler Dinucci had with a representative of the site last year. Based on a consideration of Last Resort’s ratings, the conversation wasn’t really about the fate of Last Resort (and I’m not just saying that because I was on the side of optimism and the series was canceled after 13 episodes). The conversation was actually about how TV By The Numbers frames its analysis of ratings not simply as good on its own merits, but rather uses the Cancellation Bear as a front behind which it can insult “desperate fans” who would choose to look on the bright side.
More troll-like than ursine, the Cancellation Bear is the site’s Id, framing the site’s largely measured—and unquestionably educated—predictions through the contempt the site’s creators seem to have for many of their readers and fellow reporters/journalists; it’s a frame that risks turning TV By The Numbers into a disruptive force within ratings culture, more interested in loudly performing its distinction than participating in a meaningful discourse central to TV’s future.
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July 11, 2011 · 7:02 pm
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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Filed under Men of a Certain Age
Tagged as Analysis, Andre Braugher, Brand, Emmys, Quality, Ratings, Renewal, Television, The Closer, TNT, TV
January 22, 2011 · 10:02 pm
January 21st, 2011
There is a lot to like about “The Firefly.” Any episode which centers on John Noble is bound to be of high quality in the performance area, and pairing him with guest star Christopher Lloyd proves to be as effective as one might imagine. The episode also embodies many of Fringe’s most distinctive qualities, twisting time and playing with alternate timelines in ways which have defined its creative improvements over the course of the past two seasons.
And yet, I can’t help but feel that “The Firefly” is not quite as good as it might seem on the surface. This is not to say that the opinions of people like my A.V. Club colleague Zack Handlen (who gave the episode an A) are invalid – like I say, I completely see where they’re coming from. In the end, though, I felt that the episode never found a sense of harmony within the dissonance, providing moments which seemed transcendent but ultimately delivering an episode which very much wore the scars of a necessary stepping stone on which the rest of the season will be built.
Thus, while I admire that it delivers some truly heartfelt moments which nicely set the stage for what will follow, the topsy-turvy nature of the episode feels purposefully elusive rather than genuinely mysterious – perhaps a fitting pivot into the remainder of the season, but ultimately disruptive to the episode at hand.
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Filed under Fringe
Tagged as Analysis, Anna Torv, Christopher Lloyd, FOX, Friday, John Noble, Olivia, Peter, Ratings, Review, Roscoe Joyce, Season 3, Television, The Firefly, The Observer, TV, White Tulip
October 9, 2010 · 12:27 pm
October 5th, 2010
Returning to numbers below its performance earlier this year, Caprica seems to be heading for an early death. On the one hand, this disappoints me: as a fan of this franchise, I am interested in seeing where the show might be headed. However, watching “Unvanquished” I realized that I do not feel any particular need for the series to continue. There is a decided lack of urgency to the way we approach the series: I’m co-editing Antenna this month, and I concur with Derek Johnson’s question mark in regards to our anticipation regarding the series’ return (in fact, I couldn’t prepare his piece for publication until I watched the finale, which only happened last night, thus proving his thesis).
What’s fascinating is that “Unvanquished” seems like an incredibly intelligent start to the second half of the season and yet does nothing to make the series seem more exciting; it seems more logically planned out, but logic is not enough to convince me that this show deserves to be saved.
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Filed under Caprica
Tagged as Adama, Amanda Graystone, Analysis, Apotheosis, Battlestar Galactica, Cylons, Daniel Graystone, Episode 10, Eric Stoltz, Gemenon, Meg Tilly, Paula Malcolmson, Polly Walker, Ratings, Review, Season 1, SyFy, Television, TV, Zoe
September 23, 2010 · 7:47 pm
“The Robotic Manipulation”
September 23rd, 2010
My relationship with The Big Bang Theory is more or less entirely critical: while I do have an affection for Sheldon as a character, and was very pleased to see Jim Parsons pick up an Emmy for his performance, the fact remains that this show bothers me. It is a solid show, often quite entertaining, but it always feels as if the show is undermining itself – I want it to be better than it is, and I want it to take risks that it has up to this point seemed uninterested in making.
There are elements to “The Robotic Implication,” primarily within the epoynmous subplot, which indicates that I will not become an outright fan of this show in the near future, but the central storyline (and what seems to be the series’ primary interest moving forward) is much more enjoyable. While I will always have issues with cheap storylines that feel ripped out of American Pie, so long as the heart of the show remains as prominent as it did here I will be given a reason to keep tuning in.
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Filed under The Big Bang Theory
Tagged as Amy, Amy Farrah Fowler, Analysis, Date, Episode 1, First Date, Howard, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Leonard, Mayim Bialik, Premiere, Raj, Ratings, Review, Robot Arm, Season 4, Season Premiere, Shamy, Sheldon, Television, The Robotic Manipulation, TV
September 16, 2010 · 12:26 pm
“Young At Heart”
September 15th, 2010
The biggest challenge for a reality series like Survivor is finding a way to make things interesting in the beginning. The show so heavily relies on characters and their interaction with one another that those early moments are almost always less interesting simply because they are not yet characters: at best the castaways are caricatures, limited to their first impressions (which are encouraged and extrapolated by the producers within the opening “No one is allowed to talk” journey to the first locale).
However, with Survivor: Nicaragua there is no room for subtlety in terms of getting to know the contestants: the contestants are divided based on their ages, a key component in first impressions within the series, and two of the contestants are simply unable to remain anonymous for any length of time. What emerges, then, is a focus on the importance of honesty and perception within this game, key themes that emerge within every season of Survivor.
This time around, though, the producers decided to introduce them as early as possible, mostly in order to ensure that these two notable contestants can be successfully integrated into the series’ narrative in future weeks.
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Filed under Survivor
Tagged as Amputee, Analysis, Casting, CBS, Celebrity, Espada, Fabio, Football, Jeff Probst, Jimmy Johnson, Kelly, La Flor, Nicaragua, Premiere, Ratings, Reality TV, Review, Season 21, Season Premiere, Survivor Nicaragua, Television, Timeslot, TV, Wednesday, Young at Heart
April 8, 2010 · 4:12 pm
Procedural Pacing: FX’s Justified
April 8th, 2010
Over the past few days, there have been a number of pieces being written about FX’s future, as the network recently announced that they were moving away from their “edgy” persona in favour of something more akin to USA Network’s brand identity (Jaime Weinman has a great piece on the subject). It isn’t that the network will look no different than USA or TNT, but rather that they’re looking to be a slightly edgier version of those networks as opposed to the cable equivalent of HBO. The mantra may remain the same, in other words, but the point of comparison is shifting so as to take advantage of the current marketplace (where USA is tremendously successful and FX is doing just alright).
And I feel as if the ratings “drop” for FX’s newest series, Justified, has somehow gotten caught up in this particular announcement; James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter’s TheLiveFeed posits that the show’s dropping ratings are the result of the fact that the series began with a pilot and promotion (the latter of which is a fair point, and one that I can’t entirely fairly judge being north of the border) that looked like a serialized series more akin to the channel’s past but has over the next few episodes become more “procedural,” a term that Hibberd uses as if it were a four-letter word for those expecting something “serious.”
I haven’t written about Justified yet, but I’m quite enjoying the show, and more importantly I’m finding the show to be enjoyable entirely independent of whether or not it is delving into highly serialized storylines on a regular basis. In fact, I’d argue that it is integral to the show’s long-term future that they spend time giving us a sense of what Raylan Givens does for a living and how those stories may normally develop. Just because an episode uses “procedural” storytelling does not make it a procedural, nor does that preclude the series from becoming more serialized in the future. So long as the procedural stories the show chooses to tell are interesting, and so long as the stories seem designed to reveal more about characters and about the show’s universe, then the atmosphere and character development gained are well worth the lack of “serialized” material.
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Filed under Justified
Tagged as Alan Ruck, Dexter, Elmore Leonard, FX, Kentucky, Pacing, Procedural, Ratings, Raylan Givens, Review, Serialization, Television, Timothy Olyphant, TV, U.S. Marshall, Walter Goggins, Western
April 8, 2010 · 1:20 am
“The Big ‘O'”
April 6th, 2010
I am well aware that Parenthood is not a perfect show, oscillating between moments of quiet complication and moments of tidy resolution without really earning the latter, but here I am reviewing it despite being a day “late.”
Part of that is due to the show’s ratings success: settling in at a solid demo rating that actually saw the show best both ABC’s highly-promoted V and CBS’ hit The Good Wife (which skews old), all signs point to the show receiving a second season, which means that any time I invest now will help me chart the show’s growth in the future.
However, most of it is due to the fact that as the show goes along, it continues to become more confident: it isn’t necessarily that much more consistent, but its inconsistencies are sort of moving around. Criticizing the show is in many ways like trying to hit a moving target: it isn’t that a single story is causing all of the show’s problems, but rather there’s always one story that just doesn’t quite add up, or which feels like it’s unfolding in a fashion too beholden to the unavoidable clichés the show’s premise creates. But because that’s never the same story, with the same characters, there’s always something new to talk about both good (in that past problem stories manage to pull off something quite subtle) and bad (in that some other stories take a wrong turn).
“The Big ‘O'” is certainly one of the stronger hours of the series, managing two fairly “big” moments in the show’s serialized narrative in a nice subtle fashion while going a tad bit off the rails with some of the other developments – next week, I’m sure, things will switch all over again, but let’s stick to what we’ve got for now.
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Filed under Parenthood
Tagged as Amber, Asperger's, Braverman, Camille, Crosby, Episode 6, Erika Christensen, Friday Night Lights, Jabbar, Jason Katims, Jason Ritter, Joel, Kristina, Lauren Graham, Max, Minka Kelly, Monica Potter, Mr. Cyr, NBC, Peter Krause, Racquel, Ratings, Sarah, Season 1, The Big "O", Zeke