Today at The A.V. Club, I have a piece reflecting on the state of what has become known as the 10/90 model, specifically focused on its fate at FX given the failure of George Lopez’s Saint George earlier this year and the unlikelihood of Partners—which debuts on Thursday night—setting the world on fire.
The uncertain fate of TV’s most radical get-rich-quick scheme – The A.V. Club
What’s become clear since 2012 is that the 10/90 is a form of television development fundamentally incompatible with the FX brand, and with the brand of any channel fostering a creativity-driven environment. In a business that has always been a negotiation between economic imperatives and creative potential, the 10/90 model makes no effort to have that negotiation. It’s the television-production equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme, and it shows in every pained, unfunny minute of Partners’ first two episodes, as well as in the creative struggles of both Anger Management and Saint George.
What struck me in doing research for the piece was how there was an untold story of the TBS 10/90, a marginalized narrative in the broader discourse. FX’s Anger Management was the first 10/90 to draw significant mainstream attention, despite the fact it only barely edged out the record-setting ratings of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne on TBS in 2006. But that show was on a less reputable channel, starring largely unknown actors, and—most tellingly—is primarily aimed at an African-American audience. And yet it also ran for over 250 episodes between 2006 and 2012, and spawned two other African-American led 10/90 sitcoms at the channel: Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns ran for 140 episodes between 2009 and 2011, and Are We There Yet?—based on the Ice Cube film—produced 100 episodes between 2010 and 2012.
This story became more of a stepping stone for considering the more timely discussion of FX’s relationship with this development model in the final draft of the piece, but in earlier—overlong—drafts I had a line of discussion regarding the demographic implications of the evolution of the 10/90 that I wanted to explore here. Specifically, I want to consider how we can understand the 10/90 as an important space for serving underserved audiences, and how the evolution of the form has drifted away from what seemed like a key appeal of the model early on.
Conan the Morning After: “Baa Baa Blackmail”
November 9th, 2010
Despite what their titles or tags may say, no one really “reviewed” Conan last night.
While an evaluative measure may have been undertaken by numerous critics, it is always with an asterisk: yes, we all had our opinions following Conan O’Brien’s return to late night television, but making a judgment based on a single episode of a show which plans to air four episodes a week is effectively impossible.
This should not, and did not, stop critics from being critical of his performance or from offering their perspective, but it does limit critics to what I’d consider to be “personal responses.” It becomes about what expectations we had going into the broadcast, and whether or not the “Baa Baa Blackmail” (the premiere’s rather fun “title”) lived up to those expectations depends on what precisely we wanted or expected to see.
By collecting some of these responses, i hope to be able to demonstrate that Conan and late night in general are many things to many critics, and that the show is in many ways “for” the precise opposite audience.
Who is Conan‘s Conan?: A Personal Response
November 8th, 2010
Watching Conan was a bit of a bizarre experience. Admittedly, I am not a regular viewer of Late Night, but Conan O’ Brien is probably the host that I enjoy the most, and so I was curious (if not necessarily outright excited) for him to return to the airwaves. And so I tuned into TBS for the debut of his new series, a debut which stems from a ridiculous and controversial transition at NBC, and…it was a bit weird.
It’s especially weird coming out of a period where the idea of Conan O’Brien, which is frankly what I would call myself a fan of, was all we had: with just a Twitter feed to sustain us, the mythology of Conan in the “Team Coco” era actually seemed to get a bit out of control. Once a cult favorite among younger demographics, stuck at 12:30, Conan has become a national symbol of the downtrodden despite becoming filthy rich in the process. As a result, while I am glad that Conan is back on television, I no longer have that sense that he exists as a counter to the establishment, as an odd duck who does what Leno does with a subversive edge that sets him apart.
Instead, Conan’s difference has become a commodity, and the result is a premiere which relies so heavily on recent history that it obscures what precipitated his rise to folk heroism in such a way that boils his act down to the past year of his career.
Which results in a funny hour of late night television, but one which fits more comfortably into broader public discourse than Conan’s history would suggest. The following is not a judgment of the series, impossible since it has aired only a single episode, but an effort to understand why I responded to the premiere in this way.
May 26th, 2009
My Boys has, perhaps, the oddest season structure on television. Its sporadically placed nine episode seasons always feel as if they barely start before they’re done, and they often seem designed so as to make no sense by the time they actually air (with this finale taking place during Spring Training despite finding the Baseball season in full swing – yeah, I said it – or the recent episode about the depths of winter taking place, well, not during the depths of winter).
But, more importantly, the show has this really weird pattern of ending and opening seasons with these highly dramatic scenarios of romantic cliffhangers and major events, but then abandoning them for the entire season in favour of standalone stories that are just about these character hanging out. This wouldn’t be a problem if these two forms were all that compatible, but to be honest they’re not: the end of last season was a bit of a mess, and when the show transitioned into a less serialized format this season it was kind of fantastic. I haven’t been blogging about the show due to time restraints, but there was some really great individual episodes in there, more than enough to convince me that the show is still in great shape.
As a result, it was with some caution that I entered into “Spring Training,” already pretty well knowing what we were heading into: Kenny and Stephanie’s hookup way back in last season’s finale was swept under the rug except for a few moments this season, so it was inevitable that we would be confronting that particular storyline. However, to my surprise, that’s the only attempt at drama the show made in the half hour, providing a finale that draws a simpler cliffhanger, and a trip out to that cliff which let the guys be guys, let P.J. go without any stated relationship trouble, and allowed a pretty great little season go out on a pretty good note.
“John, Cougar, Newman Camp”
August 7th, 2008
After a bit of a non-starter of a season wherein the opening resolution to the cliffhanger never went anywhere, and where the relentless drive towards this wedding finale never felt like any sort of natural progression, we have a finale that wants to bookend things cleaner than the season actually was.
And it’s successful – as far as season finales go, it is a smart choice of letting its various characters serve the right roles in Bobby’s march to holy matrimony, and even though the ending is entirely predictable the episode offers our gang of friends enough opportunities to interact that it doesn’t feel like a total cheat. It still doesn’t feel like any type of finale, serving just as a tease for the continuation to come likely early next year, but it does achieve at least a good sense of character within its contrived plotting.
So while I can’t say I’m any more excited about the final cliffhanger as I was when I presumed it would happen weeks ago, the combination of a decent continuation of last week’s threads with some funny gang stuff rises above the median but does little to change the season’s overall quality.
July 24th, 2008
Admittedly, I’ve been kind of hard on My Boys’ second season mainly because the show has been slow to really let characters transition into, well, storylines. I’m all for periods of transition for characters, something that often seems rare in television as things rush forward without a human period of self reflection; however, when that period just seems to keep going with no direction, it gets to the point where things need to settle down.
Capturing that opportunity, then, last week’s episode of My Boys did just that: it was all about settling into storylines, even if it is clear that all characters haven’t quite settled in terms of their own desires. While the show is nearly incessant in its drive towards the clear Wedding finale (Which I believe is in two weeks’ time), it is incessant with a purpose and with characters coming to a point of decision and conflict.
The writing this week was sharp and on point, tapping into the roles that characters play best while finding time for isolated storylines for Mike and Kenny’s sporting business and Andy’s marriage without seeming overworked. While the show will never quite be high art as far as television goes, it certainly found a sweet spot here, and one that it would be wise to keep for the rest of the season.
“Dudes Being Dudes”
July 17th, 2008
When it was revealed that My Boys was abandoning the workplace side of the series, they weren’t kidding: ever since PJ’s failed novel attempt, the show has become a relationship comedy as quickly as Stephanie’s book managed to get written, published and read. The entire series is revolving around a series of relationships, which results in some of your usual typecasting.
What I mean by that is simple: those in relationships (Andy and Jo’s threat against his marriage, PJ serving as the potential disruption to Bobby and Elsa’s wedded bliss) are given all dramatic material or storylines, which leaves everyone else to fill one of the typical roles. Mike and Kenny are relegated to pure comic relief, Brendan is wallowing in his poverty although he gets a bit of a leg up here, and Stephanie’s book serves as a framework of sorts (albeit it a loose and poorly defined one) for the series’ new trajectory.
And while it didn’t make “Dudes Being Dudes” a poor episode, it did make it an extremely predictable one – ever since Bobby was on that plane to Italy, the show has been phoning it in as opposed to breaking down any of our preconceptions.
“Take My Work Wife…Please”
July 9th, 2008
My Boys is not a subtle show.
There were some expectations that perhaps dropping the sports metaphors would assist the show in developing a shorthand that relies less on traditional sitcom constructs, but the latest string of episodes have shown that My Boys likes showing its cards. In this instance, the show has very clearly laid the groundwork for current storylines: Andy’s work wife, PJ’s awkwardness about Bobby’s wedding, Kenny and Mike’s alternating relationship woes, etc. And, well, I’m disappointed.
It’s not that there isn’t some humour to be found in these storylines, but it just doesn’t feel like something that has developed organically. The introduction of Jo into the series’ narrative feels perhaps the most natural, but everything else feels like they’re hitting the same note over and over again. That they go through the process of making Stephanie’s book about the boys proves that they’re desperate to expose what we already know – rather than a journey of discovery, we’re on a journey that lacks spotaneity and feels like a giant circle.
I don’t quite want to get off, as it remains breezy summer fun, but I certainly have my concerns.
July 3rd, 2008
Sorry for being a bit missing in action these past few days (And for the weekend) – I’m home for the weekend celebrating a birthday (Happy Birthday, Mom!) and associating with a new operating system on my shiny new MacBook, and as a result my television viewing (and writing) is taking a back seat.
But not so much enough to avoid a series I’ve gotten a bit hooked on. After last week’s episode kind of didn’t click for me, this week is a chance for the series to re-engage with its recurring storylines and fall at least somewhat back into its old routine: allow the secondary characters who are one-dimensional to act as such, while the ones with depth are given more material to work with.
“Spit Take” is that type of episode, where Jim Gaffigan’s Andy is given a new side (Albeit a somewhat sketchy one), and where Bobby’s next step with Elsa returns to the idea of PJ inviting Bobby along to Italy for some sort of romantic connection. If last week felt like a sitcom, this feels right: an episode about the live of a whole host of individuals, and not just those contrived moments they intersect.
“The Shirt Contest”
June 26th, 2008
Having just jumped on the My Boys bandwagon in the past week, this is the first time I’ve been able to catch an episode on the night of its airing. It’s a pity, then, that it was an episode that was so slight, a mere distraction with a central reality show parody that never quite clicked for me. There’s three storylines here, and none of them are really given anything to do. While I don’t miss PJ’s insipid Baseball cliches that opened each episode, part of me does miss episodes that felt more cohesive.
That’s not to say that the episode wasn’t funny, nor that the storylines are on a poor trajectory – rather, the pace of the storylines just seems a bit too slow. After they spent an episode in Italy, and spent last week with PJ searching for a man, it seemed like things were rebooting this week, and the result is less Andy (Never a good quality in an episode) and more of Brendan and PJ’s newest career moves.
And in one case, this is good news for an oft forgotten character; in the other, it’s an odd half-storyline that feels like we’re waiting for a payoff.