Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan and company return for more inside-entertainment hijinks
Low rated shows with younger viewers and tech-savvy audiences benefit from DVR numbers. Well duh.
We were in Vancouver and heard Amanda Tapping and company discuss Season Two of Sanctuary
ESPN's superb new documentary series features films by Peter Berg, Barry Levinson and Albert Maysles
Although ESPN continues expertly the chronicle the day's current sporting highlights and although "Outside the Lines" continues to be the "60 Minutes" of in-depth sports reporting and although the network has diversified its portfolio with scripted movies and miniseries programming, I've always considered the SportsCentury program to be the network's pinnacle.
In 1999, ESPN dedicated more programming hours than I would dare count to listing the 20th Century's 50 Greatest Athletes, doing a different biography every week, while also looking at the century's great games, coaches. I don't remember any one special individually, but I remember the breadth and depth of the initiative, as well as the debate it spawned. Is Secretariat and athlete and how can Secretariat possibly be a better athlete than Mickey Mantle? Does O.J. Simpson's off-field behavior make his on-field achievements less significant? How do you compare a Jim Thorpe to today's athletes? And who's #1?
With SportsCentury, ESPN set itself an ambitious plan and followed through admirably.
It may be too early to know for sure, but if the initial installments are any indication, ESPN may have topped itself in scope and artistry. With ESPN celebrating its 30th anniversary, the cable network contacted 30 acclaimed filmmakers (and a few interesting non-filmmakers) and said, "If you could tell one sports story from these 30 years, what story would you tell?"
The results are astounding. The complete list of films is up on the "30 For 30" website and my immediate reaction was, "There's not a single one of these 30 films that doesn't interest me on some level." Even the stories I don't care about have a hook that draws me in. Do I really need to watch a story about the Steinbrenner family? No. But if it's directed by "Harlan County USA" Oscar winner Barbara Kopple? Sure. Another documentary about Michael Jordan? No thanks. A documentary about MJ's minor league baseball season from "Bull Durham" director Ron Shelton? Why yes, please.
[More thoughts on the first four "30 For 30" hours after the break...]
CBS brings Alex O'Loughlin back to primetime with a revamped medical drama
The original "Three Rivers" pilot sent to critics in May was not really a TV show. It was a premise -- organ transplant surgeons -- and the core of a cast -- Alex O'Loughlin and Katherine Moennig, mostly -- but no tone or pace or workable structure.
When "Three Rivers" premieres on Sunday (Oct. 4), viewers won't see that original pilot. They also won't see the reshot version of that pilot. They'll see an entirely different episode and, even though they won't know it, they're also seeing an entirely different show.
The new "Three Rivers" has a little flash, a little style and some sense of where it fits in. Although it isn't produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and although it isn't part of the "NCIS" family, "Three Rivers" now actually feels like a CBS Medical Drama. And yes, that means it's resolutely procedural, somewhat surface-oriented and capable of being insanely manipultative. And no, this doesn't mean that "Three Rivers" is necessarily a show I think is very good. But this is now a show with a chance to succeed, which it was not before.
My review of "Three Rivers" after the break...
A great premise and a strong cast are wasted in a mostly leaden new 'Stargate' series
Sloppy execution cripples what ought to have been an extremely promising possibility for franchise reinvention in "Stargate Universe." The new Syfy series, premiering on Friday (Oct. 2), finds masterminds Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper determined to deliver the grittiest, darkest, most realistic "Stargate" to date, a worthy ambition except for when the result is also this dull and lugubrious.
Full disclosure: Except for passing seconds here and there, the last "Stargate" I watched with any seriousness had James Spader, Kurt Russell and the chick from "The Crying Game." It was a movie I kinda dug, but I never really required an expansion for that work. But with MGM and Syfy so enthusiastic about "Stargate Universe" and so insistent that this was a "Stargate" that was intended to welcome fresh eyes, I decided to give it a shot. After all, a similar experiment served me well on "Torchwood: Children of Earth," which stands as one of my favorite TV experiences of the year, despite no interest at in "Torchwood" mythology.
And "Stargate Universe" is loaded with actors I respect, including Robert Carlyle, Louis Ferreira, Ming-Na and Lou Diamond Phillips. What? You don't respect Lou? After "Stand and Deliver," "La Bamba," "Wolf Lake" and his week in the jungle with Spencer, the man deserves your admiration and he certainly served three television hours of my time.
There's a very real chance that "Stargate Universe" will play totally differently for fans of the franchise and also that a certain subset of science fiction fans will embrace its bleak perspective. I can only share my side...
After the break...
In getting laughter and cheers for some questionable behavior, Letterman may have rewritten the book on 21st Century Scandal Management
The news broke late Thursday (Oct. 1) that on "The Late Show," David Letterman was going to discuss an extortion attempt that led to the popular host's recent grand jury testimony and, earlier in the day, the arrest of a gentleman later identified as a "48 Hours" employee.
A press release from Letterman's people acknowledged that the host had admitted to sexual relationships with members of his staff. The Internet was all a-buzz and I even put aside Thursday evening programming to watch "The Late Show" early, something I almost never do.
But the episode began with Letterman's monologue. And a strange monologue it was for the many, many viewers expecting a candid confessional. Letterman made jokes about Mark Sanford, about Roman Polanski, about O.J. Simpson, about Sarah Palin. He covered 40 years of sex scandal fodder and tabloid favorites as if he had nothing to be ashamed of himself.
And possibly he didn't.
Patricia Heaton, Neil Flynn and newcomer Atticus Shaffer star in a solid new ABC comedy
Since I dedicated a lot of time and brain cells to eviscerating "Hank," it gives me some minor relief to say that Kelsey Grammer's "Back to You" pal Patricia Heaton has a far better comedy also premiering on Wednesday (Sept. 30) night.
Since there are several thousand YouTube videos involving talented kittens and amorous pandas that are also better than "Hank," I don't want to damn "The Middle" with praise that faint. It's a decent family sitcom that plays, as the title suggests, right down the middle. Although it makes concessions to trendy industry preference by going single-camera, its values, storylines and overall sense of humor are familiar and comfortable enough that "The Middle" would have been right at home in a TGIF lineup, back when ABC had such a thing.
Having the toxic "Hank" as its lead-in won't help "The Middle," but it's a surprisingly solid match with "Modern Family," which attracted a big audience in its premiere.
The rest of my review of "The Middle" is after the break. I'm going to keep using words like "solid" and "decent" and "respectable" and "amusing." That won't be the same as "brilliant" or "hilarious" or "Emmy-bait." But it's nothing to be ashamed of either.
Kelsey Grammer dusts off those Frasier Crane mannerisms for an unfunny riches-to-rags sitcom
They can't all be winners for ABC's comedy development. Or even qualified winners. Maligned for years as the home of "According to Jim," ABC's recent sitcom slate has included big winners ("Modern Family" and "Better Off Ted"), small winners ("The Middle") and a few mixed-to-positive interesting attempts ("The Goode Family" and, I hope, "Cougar Town"). [ABC went dumpster-diving for one good show ("Scrubs") and one Bob Saget show ("Surviving Suburbia").]
Sometimes, though, you just get star-struck and there can be no other real excuse for "Hank," which premieres on ABC on Wednesday (Sept. 30) night. Just as ABC wanted to be in the Jerry Bruckheimer business and was prepared to schedule the forgettable "Forgotten" to do so, ABC was determined to bring Kelsey Grammer into the fold at whatever price.
In this case, the price is that "Hank" besmirches an otherwise admirable two-hour block of new comedies on Wednesday night.
Full review of "Hank" after the break...
Cliff Curtis shines in NBC's new drama, which is at its best when things go 'Boom!'
Now I know how Michael Bay fans feel.
The first time I watched the pilot for NBC's "Trauma," I decided that its goals were simple: Make things go "Boom!" So I watched helicopters crash and cars careen and oil trucks explode and I figured the show had achieved its primary goals and I was perfectly content to put "Trauma" on my list of the Fall's Best New Shows.
Rewatching the "Trauma" pilot yesterday, though, I noticed the other things "Trauma" was trying to do, the human element it was trying to present and the characters it was trying to introduce. I realized that its ambitions went beyond making things go "Boom!" Unfortunately, those aren't the things that "Trauma" does very well and the pilot went from "mildly diverting" to "boring as sin" in a hurry.
Since most viewers are unlikely to watch "Trauma" twice (or even once, given NBC's recent track record), perhaps they'll be able to just accept its visceral thrills, courtesy of director Jeffrey Reiner, while ignoring its more tedious narrative familiarity, courtesy of creator Dario Scardapane.
[Review after the break...]
NBC publicity materials calls "Trauma" "the first high-octane medical drama series to live exclusively in the field where the real action is." I'm not sure while NBC wants to denigrate TV classics like "Emergency!" or recent hits like "Third Watch."
"Trauma" focuses on first-responder paramedics at San Francisco City Hospital. Whenever something dramatic happens in the City by the Bay, these are the guys who are on the scene, making the tough calls and saving lives. Not only do they handle physical trauma, but they're all coping with emotional trauma, since something happens in the opening scene that all of the main characters will have to deal with the whole run of the series.
Most viewers will be at a loss to figure out the different ranks and experience levels of the main character. Derek Luke's Cameron Boone and Anastasia Griffith's Nancy Carnahan are both paramedics. Kevin Rankin's Tyler Briggs and Taylor Kinney's Glenn are EMTs. And back at the hospital, Jamey Sheridan's Dr. Joe Saviano is... um... serving some other purpose, but he's a doctor and the press notes call him a "mentor," though only to Griffith's character, who also went to med school.
Anyway, we also have Cliff Curtis' Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuk as a flight medic and Aimee Garcia as Marisa, a rookie copter pilot.
The plotting of the pilot will confuse some viewers. There's the big traffic event in the opening. Then there's the week's big emergency, a freeway pile-up. Those action set pieces are orchestrated with well-utilized stuntwork and scope and the fireballs were far more realistic than similar work in ABC's "FlashForward." With Peter Berg serving as executive producer, "Trauma" looks expensive and, in the early going, the San Francisco settings were effectively presented. In my mind, after that first viewing, the action set-pieces took up the majority of the pilot.
The reality is that most of the show, almost the last 20 minutes, is dedicated to what Rankin's character calls "the clean-up and the come-down." That means that the show is intent on being about how these people deal with the things they see each day, how they live with the horrors they sometimes witness. In that respect, "Trauma" plays as a less successful version of the summer critical hit "The Hurt Locker," which also focused on adrenaline junkies and what happens when the high wears off.
It's in that respect that "Trauma" is both familiar and disappointing, despite a cast that would probably be perfect for a well-rended version of this show.
At the center is Curtis. Since seeing him in "Once Were Warriors," I've been convinced that Curtis could be a star, if the right casting director would ever take a chance on him. He's good-looking, comfortable with drama and comedy both, and possessed with natural screen presence. He's also been type-cast as a fill-in-the-blank ethnic character actor, meaning he's played Iraqis, Indians and Latinos, but rarely has anybody looked at him and said, "Why isn't this guy a leading man?" He absolutely is and he's got the showy part in "Trauma," as the rule-breaking, psychologically unstable Rabbit. "Trauma" is a pure ensemble, like "E.R.," but Rabbit is the breakout role, the Dr. Ross part. That's why I've been pushing Curtis as The Maori George Clooney for months. He has the most to gain if "Trauma" succeeds.
If only Scardapane knew how to write a renegade character. Note to the creator: If you need to make three explicit references to "Bullitt" and one to Steve McQueen in order to define a character, either you haven't done a good enough job of making your point narratively, or else you think the audience is stupid. Which is it?
Garcia has some good moments with Curtis and shares the "Bullitt"/McQueen exchange. I wonder how long it took the writers, though, to come up with an ultra-Catholic Latina, who's devoted to her mother, but turns out to have a fiery temper when provoked. I'm guessing 15 seconds. The smart money takes the "under," though.
I also thought Griffith was very good, confirming that it was her character on "Damages" that I hated and not the actress. That "Damages" character was such a mewling sad-sack that it's good to see Griffith being strong, emotional and sexy. Like Curtis, she stands to gain a lot from whatever success "Trauma" might have.
Less likely to gain is Luke, who's taking his first "I'm a slumming movie star" TV role. And it shows. With the exception of one great scene with Curtis, Luke's performance is mumbly and unengaging. Luke's character is given the most domestic life, scenes that sink like a stone in the Bay.
Luke is one of several actors in the "Trauma" cast with "Friday Night Lights" ties to Berg. While Luke was in the movie, Kevin Rankin's Herc was one of the very best parts of the NBC series, though he lost his reseason to be around when Scott Porter left the show. He has no real character in "Trauma," so I hope they find a way to make use of him in subsequent episodes. Rankin even found a way to be good on "Bionic Woman," so if Scardapane and company can't let him by wry and funny, that's their fault, not his. [The third "Friday Night Lights" cast member in trauma is a cameo I won't spoil.]
Rewatching the pilot and seeing how small a part of things the set pieces are and how big the "clean-up and come-down" are made me like it less. The plot becomes ridiculously sluggish in that second half of the show, because even if Curtis' character is driving the streets of San Francisco like a maniac, it's mostly Griffith looking exhausted and defeated and Luke looking tortured.
But I also like the idea that "Trauma" might have aspirations beyond a simple procedural disaster-of-the-week. Once you shut down a bridge for an accident and scale a tall building, are you really going to be able to find big enough emergencies every week to keep this show running on spectacle alone? Where's the series then? The second half of the episode, plus the "Hurt Locker" model, give me an idea of where "Trauma" could go that would interest me, but also a sense that this creative team may not be able to get it to that place in a way I'll enjoy.
Then again, after the generally incompatible "Heroes" is done salting the Earth at 8 p.m. will anybody be tuning in looking for substance anyway? Enjoy the "Boom," I guess.
"Trauma" premieres on Monday, Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. on NBC.