Tag Archives: USA Network

Event Series at TCA: Dig and Ascension add fuel to the “WTF is an Event Series?” fire

USASyfy

The label “event series” has always been a confounding one, more a branding exercise than an actual entity from a production perspective. One does not actually make an “event series”: you make a television series or a miniseries, the former of which is open-ended and could return for more seasons and the latter of which is close-ended and will not.

At today’s NBC Universal press tour day, both USA Network’s Dig and Syfy’s Ascension were labeled as event series, and they have a lot in common otherwise: they’re both six episodes, and they’re both so early in production that there was no episodes available to critics in advance. This created a vacuum of sorts, but out of that vacuum came the news that both Dig and Ascension are hedging their bets on their potential for subsequent seasons, neither willing to accept the notion of a close-ended miniseries end of the event series spectrum.

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Cultural Checkup: USA’s Suits and White Collar

Cultural Checkup: Suits and White Collar

August 12th, 2011

Although I’ve stopped watching Burn Notice, and ceased my bizarre commitment to the dull Royal Pains this summer, and didn’t bother with Covert Affairs’ second season, and didn’t even bother with Necessary Roughness (which I thought looked terrible), I remain really quite interested with USA as a network. With White Collar, they have a show that I think hits a lot of interesting buttons, and with Suits you have a show that seems to be aiming for the same goal. They’re shows that I like a great deal in particular moments, and that are in two very different stages of development.

However, as I drop in on both shows this week, I’ll admit that I find them a bit frustrating. While Suits has a lot of potential, its youthfulness shows signs of uncertainty in regards to questions of genre and narrative, problems that White Collar continues to carry even as it clearly leads the network’s offerings in terms of quality. I know that the general approach to USA programming is not quite this hyper-critical, but I’ve stored up a few too many things to say about the two shows, so I figured the Cultural Checkup was a good way to get through them.

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Lighter, not Lesser: In Media Res confronts the Enigma of Summer TV

Whenever I write reviews of summer television, I always sort of rub up against society’s general conception of summer programming – for example, if I get around to reviewing Covert Affairs, my review will likely discuss how its low-impact spy environment feels like “Alias gone Summer,” which implies that there is something about Alias (a darker vision into the struggles facing a new CIA recruit) which is inherently different from summer programming. In these reviews I rarely offer an overarching glimpse of what summer television is, largely because it means something different to every network and every viewer, and its meaning changes from year to year. There is no definitive role which summer television plays, and this summer’s programming has us no closer to understanding the enigma which is television’s most maligned, and yet perhaps most fascinating, season.

Well, this week a Fellowship of Summer Television (ala the Fellowship of the Ring) has converged at In Media Res to confront this enigma, as a collection of professors, critics, grad students and even unaffiliated intellectuals have come together to discuss trends within summer television, or the historical or social context of some of the season’s most popular programs. The goal of the week, which I’m very proud to be a part of, is to better understand how viewers and the industry confront summer television: the pieces are short observations accompanied by a video or a slideshow which provides additional context, and our goal is not achieved through extensive analysis but rather through discussion and interaction. In fact, the pieces aren’t even as long as this blog post, which long-time readers will know made this project particularly challenging for me; however, the result was a greater focus on the core of my idea, and throughout the week as others pieces have been posted I’ve seen how clarity of purpose helps to create new avenues of discussion that even the longest of independent posts wouldn’t have been able to achieve.

So far this week, Charlotte Howell looked at the ways in which USA Network has formed their own genre, while on Tuesday Jaime Weinman looked at how the Summer’s breakout cable hit, TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, is related to both 90s sitcoms and Disney’s efforts to target the tween demographics with similar fare. Yesterday, meanwhile, Jeremy Mongeau looked at how summer series use pleasure (or the appearance of pleasure) to create a ‘must watch’ series amidst a season very different from fall or winter. Tomorrow, Chris Becker is going to look at how DVD marathons are changing our summer viewing habits, which I’m very much looking forward to.

However, today is my day, and I am looking at something which nicely bridges the gap between Jeremy’s discussion of what makes a successful summer series and Chris’ discussion of the ways in which alternate viewing methods are changing those qualifications. I discuss what I call “Seasonal Synergy,” that being an inherent (and clearly understood by both network and viewer) connection between a series and the summer in which it airs, or premieres. I specifically look at Royal Pains and Burn Notice, and how the challenges the series have faced after becoming so synonymous with the sunniest of seasons.

The Rigidity of Seasonal Synergy – In Media Res

If you’re intrigued by summer programming and interested in discussing more about it (or hearing more about it), I truly suggest clicking through and reading these great pieces. Summer TV may be lighter than regular fare, but I do not believe it to be lesser, and discussions like this one (masterminded by Noel Kirkpatrick) are integral to better understanding what role it plays in our media consumption and in the industry as a whole. I’ll be reflecting on the week as a whole, including an elaboration on my own piece, early next week, so stay tuned for that as well.

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Season Premiere: White Collar – “Withdrawal”

“Withdrawal”

July 13th, 2010

I would posit that it is impossible to truly suffer from White Collar withdrawal – while I will not begrudge those who love the series more than I, I don’t think that the show is substantial enough for its overall package to be considered something to which one could become addicted and suffer from symptoms of televisual withdrawl (I am, however, aware that “Matt Bomer withdrawal” is likely a fairly common condition).

However, “Withdrawal” focuses on the parts of the show which I think have it on the verge of becoming an addictive substance, albeit more for those who have a particular appetite for this sort of procedural fare. The series still struggles to pull together its serialized storylines, as the premiere would have been better off without the tease at episode’s end which throw numerous character relationships into peril, but the central case and the way in which it was solved had enough charm to make the episode feel like a more welcome return than I had imagined.

I may not be jumping for joy that it has returned to my television specifically, but I’m pleased that it has returned in a form which makes for some nice summer escapism which is starting to build enough of a history to become something more.

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Season Premiere: Royal Pains – “Spasticity”

“Spasticity”

June 3rd, 2010

If you’re looking for thoughts on the more entertaining of last night’s USA Network premieres, then you’ll want to check out Alan Sepinwall’s review of the fourth season and Todd VanDerWerff’s review of the premiere at The A.V. Club. Ultimately, I’m about in line with Todd on the show: while I still enjoy it, and thought the premiere did some interesting things, I’m finding that I am far less engaged in the series than I once was. While before its scheduling in the summer months seemed like a welcome bit of intellectually-aligned fun, now it just feels like we’re, you know, burnt out on Burn Notice.

But since those gentlemen put such a nice button on the Burn Notice premiere, I wanted to turn my attention to that which came afterwards. If Michael Westen had tied me to a chair and interrogated me for two days, I honestly don’t know if he could have been able to get me to remember what happened at the end of Royal Pains’ first season last summer. I remembered the basic premise of the show, as well as the basic character interactions central to the series, but in terms of an actual plot the closest I could come is “Campbell Scott’s eccentric billionaire has a weird illness that he pulled a Jason Street to try to fix,” which doesn’t exactly constitute a lasting impression considering I relate to it largely through an obscure Friday Night Lights reference.

“Spasticity” is a fine example of both why I plan to keep watching the show and why, in a few months time, I’ll likely forget about everything I watched this summer. While the show has a way of passing the time in a way which I quite admire, it is not what one would call entertaining: there is nothing here to please crowds beyond a compelling guest turn from Kyle Bornheimer and residual love for Arrested Development having fundamentally changed our perception of Henry Winkler, the rest of the series comfortable to sit in a functional but lifeless holding pattern that honestly serves it quite well.

In some ways, I have a certain respect for the show not trying to push itself to be more explicitly engaging, retaining its understated even when it occasionally results in storylines which what one would generally consider “unmemorable.”

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Season Finale: White Collar – “Out of the Box”

“Out of the Box”

March 9th, 2010

White Collar is what I would call a premise procedural. While it eventually falls into a rhythm of crime-solving like other procedurals, it starts with a central premise or setup that remains unresolved in order to provide the show its tension and its “added value” beyond the formula. For Burn Notice, it’s Michael’s never-ending quest to figure out who burned him, and for White Collar it’s Neal Caffrey’s quest to reunite with his beloved Kate. To some extent, both shows have their characters just killing time, waiting until the beginning and end of each episode where they will make incremental progress on their broader search.

What keeps White Collar from ascending to the level of Burn Notice is that, by and large, I don’t “buy” its premise. The same thing has happened with Burn Notice over time, as we reach the point where we wonder why Michael Westen doesn’t realize that he has a woman he loves, a mother who loves him, and a loyal best friend in Miami which give him more than enough reason to leave the whole “burn” mess alone. But with White Collar, it was sort of there from the beginning, with too many questions about Kate’s loyalty (and, frankly, her fundamental lack of personality) and the trustworthiness of Fowler’s plot to make it seem like we should be rooting for this reunion.

The show has always been at its best when Peter and Neal are friends, not enemies, and when Neal is a charismatic crime solver rather than a lovestruck idiot with enormous blinders to all sorts of logical concerns with his plan. As such, “Out of the Box” struggles to reflect what has made the show a pleasant experience over its first season, trapped in conflict and false goodbyes that we know will return us to the status quo, just as Michael Westen remains in the dark about who burned him.

At the least, though, White Collar seems to realize that things needed to be shaken up, and they’ve taken some intriguing (if predictable) steps to perhaps set the show on a better path heading into its second season.

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Burn Notice – “Friendly Fire”

“Friendly Fire”

January 28th, 2010

Noel Kirkpatrick put together a post on “formula TV” over at Monsters of TV yesterday, and in highlighting Burn Notice he points out the following:

…each episode will also find Michael trying to get back into the CIA (originally to find out who burned him and why), often near the end of the episode or throughout the episode while trying to help the Client of the Week.

And while this is ostensibly true, it’s important to note that not all such efforts are built to the same standards: Carla was a distraction which forced Michael to multi-task, while the police detective at the start of the season was a nuisance that forced Michael to be more cautious. And while I thought Carla felt as if she created character-driven drama, in that Michael was distracted and perhaps too focused on returning to his position within the CIA (the same goes for Strickler, to some extent), Moon Bloodgood’s detective was just a barrier who made the show less interesting, a muzzle that kept Michael Westen from being Michael Westen.

It’s too early to judge Gilroy yet, but “Friendly Fire” is the ideal demonstration of how fun Burn Notice’s formula can be: a compelling story is made more explosive and more enjoyable by the presence of an external figure who is looking for a good show. And while it might not be as psychologically complex, it presents no barrier to the show being its fun, high-energy self, which makes it a story with quite a bit of potential.

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