Parks and Recreation launched as a shortened six-episode order because Amy Poehler was pregnant at the time, and they weren’t able to shoot any more episodes. The show that debuted was effectively an experiment, the first stab at merging together the mockumentary-style of The Office (the show originated as a spinoff before being turned into an entirely disconnected project) with the show’s cast as performers (or thespians, to refer to them with the respect they deserve).
Parks and Recreation was an experiment that NBC nurtured (likely because of its pedigree), giving the show a plum post-Office time slot and renewing it despite continually plummeting ratings. Now finishing its fourth season, and likely to be renewed for a fifth, the show will be heading into syndication with the potential to make NBC Universal a not unsubstantial sum.
Bent was ordered as a six-episode first season, and positioned as a midseason replacement simply because NBC was unwilling to commit to a larger order. The show never quite found the right gear for Jeffrey Tambor’s character, but the cast dynamic was strong and the central chemistry with David Walton and Amanda Peet gave the “romantic comedy” side of things some definite credibility.
Bent was a perfectly solid show that NBC turned into a scheduling experiment, airing the six episodes in three one-hour blocks spread out over three weeks. Although Josef Adalain has NBC sources on record suggesting this was actually an attempt to help the show, that doesn’t change that the choice to experiment effectively doomed the show before it had a chance to become, well, anything.
Given that Walton was cast in another pilot this morning, the chances for a renewal are effectively nil, but I want to expand on this comparison briefly and reflect back on the two weeks and six episodes that are likely to remain the extent of the charming, pleasant Bent.
Structure and Scheduling in HBO’s Mildred Pierce
March 27th, 2011
The front cover of the press kit sent to critics for HBO’s Mildred Pierce suggests that Kate Winslet is Mildred Pierce in a five-part Miniseries.
The inside cover, meanwhile, touts Academy Award winner Kate Winslet starring in a film by Todd Haynes.
None of this is ostensibly untrue. Kate Winslet is both an Academy Award winner and unquestionably the centerpiece of this project – if there’s a single scene in which she does not appear, I have no recollection of it. And this is indeed a project directed by Todd Haynes, and it will air in five parts over the course of three weeks starting this evening at 9/8c.
However, I’m admittedly quite intrigued by the notion of “miniseries” and “film” being used as synonyms. To be clear, I know it isn’t ostensibly wrong: considering that Todd Haynes directed all five parts of the miniseries, and that they were all scripted by Haynes and Jon Raymond, this is a single cohesive project which has simply been split into five parts (oddly enough airing over three weeks). And yet there’s something strange about considering this as a single project given the way it will be seen by the majority of its audience, and the way it will be covered in certain locations which cover shows on a weekly basis.
I was actually going to write about the reception of the miniseries independent of having seen it, but I felt that I should withhold that commentary until actually sitting down with all five and a half hours. And yet, watching it has created only more questions: did I watch it in the “correct” fashion by seeing it all over the course of a single evening with a brief intermission, or was it actually meant to be consumed in the episodic fashion being utilized by HBO?
And, perhaps more importantly, is it worth your time at all?
The Stealth Launch: Lie to Me, Caprica Return
October 4th, 2010
This week marks the return of two series which were supposed to remain on the bench for a bit longer.
FOX’s Lie to Me was originally scheduled to return in November, but its third season will slot behind House (where it was last season) starting tonight at 9/8c.
SyFy’s Caprica, meanwhile, wasn’t going to return until January, but the decision was made to pair the conclusion of the series’ first season (10/9c) with the return of Stargate Universe on Tuesday.
As someone who was compelled by Caprica, and who finds Lie to Me to be a solid procedural, I should be excited by these returns. However, both because of a general lack of promotion in one case and a sheer lack of warning in the other, these series risk being missed by their prospective audience. While there is some value to flying under the radar, and it is possible that reduced awareness could lead to reduced expectation, I can’t help but feel that these series are being put in a position where sooner is not necessarily better.
HBO at TCA: Story, Genre and Scheduling
August 8th, 2010
I’ve been following along with the news out of the Television Critics Association Press Tour through Twitter, but to be honest there hasn’t really been anything that’s caught my attention: while I’m incredibly wary of the changes being made to Human Target, I’ll save any judgment until I actually see them in action, and since I haven’t seen the fall pilots I can’t really offer any opinion on how the panels seems to have changed my view on each series.
However, on the final day the HBO executive session ended up being a really interesting one: not only did HBO programming guru Michael Lombardo confirm that Entourage’s next season will be its last, but he also offered up some intriguing quotes about their planned Spring launch of Game of Thrones as well as a curious statement regarding the network’s approach to scheduling. With the networks, there’s this sense that they’re there to sell the critics on their already announced lineups, but with HBO there’s a laid-back confidence which could be read as cockiness, and it makes for a more interesting environment in terms of the kinds of discussion it creates.
So, let’s take a gander at what an Entourage movie and a question of genre vs. storytelling tell us about the channel’s approach as compared with its pay cable counterparts.
“The Return of Wheel-o”
June 28th, 2010
While it may not be the best comedy on television, I’d argue that Dan for Mayor makes a strong case for being one of the most confident. While some shows spend their first seasons in a state of becoming, the series seemed to spring fully formed from the minds of Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White – the initial premise had potential which played out throughout the season, and from the beginning it was intertwined with the interpersonal relationships which make the series more than a clever premise. The notion of a lowly bartender running for Mayor as a way to impress his ex-girlfriend offers plenty of potential for humour, but the series has evolved into something much more than that: “The Return of Wheel-o” reflects a season which didn’t shy away from plot development, constantly changing the stakes of the race to the point where the finale gives Dan everything he wanted only to twist once more.
And yet, for a show which refused to rely on stability to tell its stories, Dan for Mayor has been remarkably consistent. It’s an extraordinarily clever show, but it never felt like it became too clever for its own good, its material always working in tandem with its cast in order to present a far more cohesive world than seems possible when presenting three different campaigns along with a number of personal lives. It never seemed like the show struggled under the weight of this challenge, capable from the beginning of managing both political satire and character development without breaking a sweat, and so I figure I should spend some time discussing what was a really enjoyable season of television.
Which, you know, 99% of you haven’t seen.
March 4th, 2010
I don’t have a whole lot to say about “The Delivery” on its own, to be honest with you: as I am not one of those who have turned on Jim and Pam, or someone who feels that their relationship has anything to do with the show’s creative downturn this season (after all: they were all but married last season and the Michael Scott Paper Company arc was pure gold), I was charmed by the birth of young Cecilia Marie Halpert, which was heartwarming and emotional and all of those things.
I’m with Alan Sepinwall in that the episode sort of lost all of its momentum in the latter half, and rather than repeat his thoughts (all of which I agree with) I thought I’d consider the scheduling ramifications here. As I was discussing with Jaime Weinman on Twitter, I think the interesting thing here is the “Part 2” is unquestionably the weaker episode, but in what position is it the least weak? The Office is a show with a fairly impatient fanbase, and I think that “Part 2” likely played better as a weak second-half here than it would have next week, a slight blight on an otherwise well-executed storyline rather than another weak episode in an average season.
AMC’s The Prisoner and Transmedia Paticipation
November 21st, 2009
In this week’s review of AMC’s remake of The Prisoner, I wrote at length about what I saw as a failure of the show’s narrative: in my eyes, the series struggled due to a lack of information that resulted in no emotional connection with the characters and, as a result, no real connection to the story. I resisted the argument that the series’ sense of mystery, and its complex thematic conclusion, justify this structure, and friend of the blog David J. Loehr brought up a great example to support my point:
It makes me think of Hitchcock’s example of the “bomb under the table” idea, that you can show ten minutes of two men having the most boring lunchtime conversation ever and BOOM, their table blows up. That’s a cheap thrill at the end of ten boring minutes. Or you could show the bomb under the table, then continue the exact same scene, boring conversation and all, except now it’s fraught with tension as you wait for the bomb to go off. The sixth episode is the bomb, at least in this example if not in modern lingo.
However, based on conversations I had with some of the always great posters at NeoGAF and today’s Futures of Entertainment 4 panel on Producing Transmedia Experiences: Participation and Play, I’m starting to understand why some have argued that the series was actually a success. It seems that those who enjoyed the miniseries are those who so inherently bought into the sense of mystery and intrigue (inspired both by the density of this miniseries and the decades of debate over the meaning of the original series) to the point where they began to see narrative gaps as clues, and inconsistencies as paradoxes meant to be seen as part of the broader narrative.
I would argue this was not by design, and that these viewers are taking poor execution and turning it into a game that the writers and directors didn’t actually create. They have effectively “gamed” the miniseries, taking a trend that is popular within serial dramas like Lost and applying it regardless of whether it is actually part of an intended transmedia experience.
It’s a behaviour that indicates television has become an environment of “game” (by providing a clear sense of how audience can participate in the construction of narrative) or be “gamed,” and that AMC missed an opportunity to improve the response and increase the impact of the miniseries by not actively pursuing this avenue.