<p>Simon Cowell&nbsp;</p>

Simon Cowell 

Credit: FOX

'X Factor' judges Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato tease Four-Chair Challenge, One Direction visit and more

How has Simon Cowell responded to this season's ratings?
I'm really intrigued by the Four-Chair Challenge, which starts on "The X Factor" this week.
 
Given the amount of skepticism I've been known to heap upon the FOX singing competition, that could perhaps cause you optimism as well. 
 
Thus far, "X Factor" and FOX promotions haven't done a great job of explaining this structural evolution for the Wednesday/Thursday show, which may explain why Simon Cowell and the network hosted a small group of reporters on Monday (September 30) afternoon to try teasing the Four-Chair Challenge.
 
Let me try to explain it a bit better than the teasers have done: Currently, all four judges/mentors have 10 remaining contestants in their respective categories. Starting on Wednesday, the process begins to winnow down to four per category. On the stage, there will be four seats or "chairs," if you will. One by one, the singers in each category will perform and their respective coach/mentor/judge will have to decide whether or not to give one of the chairs to a singer. For a while, it's pretty low-key. Yes or No. Easy peasy. But once all four chairs are filled, things get fun. As the four contestants sit in their chairs, briefly feeling comfortable with their positions, they have to watch as another contestant performs just feet away and their coach then has to give the "Yes" or "No" votes. If it's a "Yes," they have to execute a Switch, booting one of the singers from their chairs. It's like musical chairs or a Yankee Swap, only with young people sensing their dreams are about to get shattered instead of prettily wrapped presents.
 
Cowell explains that the Four-Chair Challenge was transplanted from "X Factor: Holland" and while he acknowledged that it's "possibly the worst title in the world," the results have the potential to be wonderfully sadistic and also entertaining. There's pressure on the performers in the spotlight. There's pressure on the judges. There's pressure on the squirming contestants in the "Yes" chairs, who are experiencing a really unpleasant roller-coaster. And this is all happening in front of a loud and vocal audience trying to sway the contestants and also (with some success) the judges. And it's an audience that includes the parents and family members of the contestants, loved ones with the potential to take heartbreak with even less grace than the singers themselves. Throw in pauses more pregnant than Catherine Zeta-Jones at the 2003 Oscars and you get a recipe to add suspense where none existed previously.
 
Indeed, the biggest thing working in favor of the Four-Chair Challenge is that it isn't really replacing anything of value. These next few episodes are taking the place of those forgettable installments in which the judges and a hand-picked celebrity friend sat in or around houses that may or may not have actually been theirs and listened to the singers perform in environments with dreadful acoustics and then made arbitrary decisions that featured little drama at all. Even if the entirety of the Four-Chair Challenge fails to live up to the 20 minutes I saw last night, it will still be an improvement over Judges' Houses.
 
After the presentation, I was able to grab a few minutes with Simon Cowell and also with Demi Lovato to discuss the Four-Chair Challenge and also to talk about the show's ratings, the inevitable One Direction appearance and more.
 
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<p>Dylan McDermott of &quot;Hostages&quot;</p>

Dylan McDermott of "Hostages"

Credit: CBS

Monday ratings analysis: 'Hostages' struggles, 'Blacklist' impresses

'We Are Men" drags '2 Broke Girls' down
Y'all may have noticed that I didn't do analysis for Sunday's ratings. 
 
The reasons were two-fold: There's nothing to say about Sunday Night Football, while football overrun wreaked havoc on both FOX and CBS' numbers. Then either I didn't get Final numbers, or I got them too late and I was on to other things. Apologies.
 
Some VERY quick Sunday hits: "Betrayal" is, predictably, DOA, coming in way below the launch for "Pan Am" and slightly below the launch for "666 Park Avenue." There were only two premiere week dramas that came in entirely stillborn -- "Lucky 7" and "Betrayal" -- and both were on ABC and both creative by David Zabel. Ugh. 
 
Actually, nothing else was meaningful. "Revenge" and "Once Upon a Time" were both below last fall, but above last spring. So that's OK. And "The Good Wife" and "The Mentalist" came in really low among young viewers. REALLY low. "The Mentalist" was almost certainly in its last season anyway. I'm not sure what CBS is supposed to do about "Good Wife."
 
But anyway, I'm actually here to give a quick look to the numbers from Monday, September 30, which feature a lot of good news actually. Unless you're CBS. In that case? Not-so-good news.
 
Bulletpoints after the break... 
 
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<p>James Spader of &quot;The Blacklist&quot;</p>

James Spader of "The Blacklist"

Credit: NBC

TV Ratings: 'Voice,' 'Blacklist' lead NBC Monday, while weak 'Men' hurts CBS

'Bones' rises, 'Sleepy Hollow' steadies for FOX
Fast National ratings for Monday, September 30, 2013. 
 
NBC's "The Voice" and "The Blacklist" held up reasonably well from last week's premieres to lead NBC to comfortable wins on Monday night in all key measures.
 
With most of the big premieres going last week, CBS had the night's lone launch. The 8:30 comedy "We Are Men" came in weak, under last year's "Partners" launch, and helped contribute to poor numbers for the rest of CBS' lineup, including "Hostages," which didn't get to enjoy the glow of solid DVR numbers for long. 
 
Nearly everything was down from last week, so it's notable to mention that FOX's "Bones" bounced back to its premiere level, perhaps helping "Sleepy Hollow" retain most of its Week 2 audience.
 
On to the numbers...
 
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Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 204 - 'Breaking Bad' Finale Edition

Dan and Alan discuss the series finale of 'Breaking Bad' and nothing else

The

Happy Monday, Boys & Girls! Time for a special, limited-scope installment of The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast.
 
There are lots of new shows premiering this week, including "Ironside" and "Welcome to the Family" and "Super Fun Night." But let's be honest: None of  this week's new premieres is especially good. 
 
So rather than trying to record an epic two-hour podcast and shoehorn in "Breaking Bad" finale discussion at the end when we're already exhausted, we decided to keep today's podcast nice and simple.
 
It's 40+ minutes on the "Breaking Bad" finale. PERIOD.
 
This is not the promised All-"Breaking Bad" podcast. That'll be a regular-length podcast and it'll be some future time in the fall. This is just a slightly expanded version of our normal end-of-podcast discussion of the show. And nothing else to spoil it or get in the way. 
 
We'll try to do another podcast in the next day or two with the other reviews. But whatever!
 
So today's breakdown is easy:
"Breaking Bad" finale (00:00:00 - 00:41:20)

As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. [Or you can always follow our RSS Feed.] 

And as always, feel free to e-mail us questions for the podcast.

 

 

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<p>The New England Patriots held on for victory on Sunday</p>

The New England Patriots held on for victory on Sunday

Credit: AP

TV Ratings: Patriots-Falcons action leads NBC Sunday, while 'Betrayal' tanks for ABC

ABC's 'Once Upon a Time' and 'Revenge' are up from spring numbers
Fast National ratings for Sunday, September 29, 2013.
 
NBC's Sunday Night Football game between New England and Atlanta easily drew the highest ratings on a Premiere Week Sunday driven by delays and preemptions.
 
As will frequently be the case throughout the fall, in addition to NBC's ratings being subject to change due to football, CBS' ratings are also inflated by 15 minutes of NFL overrun, pushing "60 Minutes" and the rest of the schedule for much of the country. And even with that boost, CBS' "Amazing Race," "The Good Wife" and "The Mentalist" came in on the low side. FOX's ratings also were inflated by long-running football.
 
Ultimately, in fact, the only network with numbers unimpacted by football was ABC, which got OK -- better than spring numbers, but worse than last fall's premieres -- returns for "Once Upon a Time" and "Revenge," though "Betrayal" launched to much smaller returns than such recent Sunday luminaries as "Pan Am" and "666 Park Avenue."
 
[Ratings for the "Breaking Bad" finale and also for the "Homeland" and "Masters of Sex" premieres will be out this afternoon and we'll report on them when they're available.]
 
On to the numbers...
 
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<p>The start of the &quot;Amazing Race&quot; season</p>

The start of the "Amazing Race" season

Credit: CBS

Recap: 'The Amazing Race' Season 23 Premiere - 'We're Not In Oklahoma No More'

The 11 teams head to Chile for paragliding and rowing
Well, at least we know what the lesson of Sunday (September 27) night's "The Amazing Race" premiere was: 
 
Get your sorry butt off of Twitter, or else people will post "Breaking Bad" spoilers and you'll have no one to blame with yourself. 
 
What? That wasn't your takeaway? 
 
I'm sure you got something much simpler, but no less correct:
 
Just read the freaking clues.
 
Sometimes you can go on "The Amazing Race" without knowing how to drive stick and you'll squeak through for a while. Sometimes your fear of heights or inability to swim can be properly managed. But everybody has to read clues and as we were reminded on Sunday's season-opener, failure to read clues can mean the difference between first place and a major game advantage and second place, or between 10th place and still being in the Race and 11th.
 
More on Sunday's premiere, plus quick handicapping of the 11 teams, after the break. 
 
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<p>Michael Sheen of &quot;Masters of Sex&quot;</p>

Michael Sheen of "Masters of Sex"

Credit: Showtime

Interview: Michael Sheen discusses the delicate balance of 'Masters of Sex'

Actor discusses the process of crafting his version of William Masters
I've interviewed Michael Sheen twice in the past 10 months, but it also feels like I've interviewed two different Michael Sheens.
 
Last November, I sat down with a gregarious, mustachioed, wild-haired Michael Sheen, wearing a red smoking jacket, to talk about his final time playing Volturi ringleader Aro in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2." In that interview, Sheen was full of quips and laughter.
 
This August, at the Beverly Hilton, I chatted with a clean-shaven Michael Sheen, hair neatly coiffed, dark suit perfectly fitted. In this interview for Showtime's "Masters of Sex," Sheen was erudite, introspective and effusive on his craft. 
 
Probably it makes sense to find light amusement when you're talking about an ageless, telepathic vampire in a blockbuster YA franchise. 
 
And probably it makes sense to be thoughtful and, at times, fiercely protective when you're promoting a high-minded Showtime drama about pioneering human sexuality researchers William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson. In the drama, which dazzlingly avoids coming off as exploitative despite the titillating subject matter, Sheen plays the intriguingly internalized Masters opposite Lizzy Caplan's more outgoing Johnson.
 
For Sheen, it's a performance crafted from precise line-readings, precise mannerisms and brief moments of telling openness. In our conversation, Sheen sets me straight on the differences in playing internalized and externalized characters. He talks about the challenges of setting the right tone on the set and the role that he played in establishing that tone.
 
I think it's a fascinating interview, even when Sheen was telling me I was confused about things.
 
Click through for the full Q&A.
 
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<p>Fitz and Simmons!</p>

Fitz and Simmons!

Credit: ABC

'Sleepy Hollow,' 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' make big Monday/Tuesday Live+3 DVR gains

'Blacklist' rises for NBC, while 'Hostages' gets better news
The Live+3 Day DVR rankings are starting to trickle in and, like I promised, I'm going to start occasionally looking at those numbers, which make up a bigger and bigger picture of the TV landscape. The key problem is that while Fast National ratings come in with clockwork regularity each morning between 8 and 8:30 and are reported by each of the major networks simultaneously, the Live+3 figures may get to the networks at the same time each day, reflecting ratings for shows that premiered five days earlier, the networks have yet to get into a routine of transparency and spin when it comes to these numbers. So I'll be reporting them as I can, when I can and as things feel notable.
 
Certainly for Premiere Week, the numbers seem notable and so I'll give them some exposure.
 
Most figures are in for Live+3 DVR rankings for Monday, September 23 and Tuesday, September 24. And, if we're being honest, what we've learned isn't all that different from what we already knew.
 
To wit...
 
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<p>&quot;The Amazing Race&quot; host Phil Keoghan</p>

"The Amazing Race" host Phil Keoghan

Credit: CBS

Interview: Phil Keoghan handicaps 'The Amazing Race' Season 23

Get early predictions from the Emmy-winning show's host
I met the cast of "Amazing Race" Season 23 in June before they'd faced a single Detour or Roadblock, before the teams had been allowed to say so much as a word to each other. 
 
Still, the temptation to handicap the still-unknown pairings was irresistible. It's irresistible for host Phil Keoghan as well and when we sat down, I spent a while trying to get Phil to make predictions on which teams he won't be Philiminating this season. 
 
The difficulties of predicting winners is something that Phil views as being one of the biggest strengths of "The Amazing Race." In fact, nearly everything I brought up in our conversation tied into another of the show's greatest strengths. 
 
Just as his buddy Jeff Probst is, at heart, a huge fan of "Survivor," Phil Keoghan is a huge fan of "The Amazing Race" and any concern that I raised about the show, he pivoted around into an asset.
 
Just as my interview with co-creator Elise Doganieri was like checking off boxes for the issues I like to harp on in my recaps, my chat with Phil was very much a State of "The Amazing Race" interview. We talked about equalizers, alliances and potential All-Star seasons.
 
The full Q&A is after the break...
 
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<p>J.K. Simmons of &quot;Growing Up Fisher&quot;</p>

J.K. Simmons of "Growing Up Fisher"

Credit: NBC

Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Growing Up Fisher'

There aren't many more pilots to go

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show:"Growing Up Fisher" (NBC)
Airs:Midseason
The Pitch: "It's an odd, quirky, historically non-specific 'Wonder Years' knock-off." "No thanks." "But ABC had a 'Wonder Years' knock-off and FOX has a 'Wonder Years' knock-off." "Does CBS?" "Ummm... Maybe." "Fine. We'll take it."
Quick Response: "Growing Up Fisher" isn't *exactly* a "Wonder Years" knock-off. After all, it's set in the present. However, it's being narrated from sometime in the future by a grownup version of the main character (Jason Bateman for the voiceover and Eli Baker for the story) who reflects on his childhood experiences with a mixture of wry sarcasm, cloying sentimentality and twist-teasing dramatic irony. Between this and "The Goldbergs" and "Surviving Jack," there's a lot of not-quite-getting what what worked on "The Wonder Years" 20+ years ago. So far, none of these shows have had their main character reflect on the first time they watched "The Wonder Years," but it's getting close. Complicating matters is the initial proclamation that "The following is inspired by a true story," which must mean that DJ Nash wrote it from the future and mailed scripts back to 2013? Yeah. I dunno. I am a sucker for JK Simmons. I even found him funny in "Family Tools" and nobody else can say that. But here, he's giving a performance that almost has to work against one of the most self-consciously quirky characters I've ever seen on a TV show. He's playing the main character's father and he's an attorney, but he's blind and basically nobody knows that. How is that possible? How is that sustainable? How is that workable? Well, the "Bernie's" series did two films in which nobody knew the eponymous character was DEAD, so I guess fooling people into thinking a blind guy can see isn't the most absurd thing ever, but it's definitely a thing that requires way more perpetual suspension of disbelief than I was willing to put in. The oddest part is that Simmons, often prone to going big with comedy, is underplaying a character who has been *written* absurdly big. There's a clash of tones. There's also a clash of tones with the mother, who has been written as five or six different things, basically a pipe-smoking teenager in the body of a woman-of-a-certain-age. Parker Posey had no clue what the character was and her performance in the pilot was an incongruous mess of ticks. It wasn't her fault in the slightest. She's subsequently been replaced by Jenna Elfman, but she may just have escaped. The person who probably needed replacing was director David Schwimmer, who has been a solid director in the past, but I tend to blame directors when tone gets as out-of-synch as it is here. The thing "Growing Up Fisher" has working in its favor is that at least for the pilot, I liked leading man Eli Baker, who sometimes makes things funny even if it's not always in the same way as things around him are trying to be funny. "Surviving Jack" is, as I've said, the best of the three "Wonder Years"-style comedies premiering this year, but Eli Baker may be the best of the young central stars. That's a building block and since "Growing Up Fisher" is rebuilding anyway, we'll see how things go.
Desire To Watch Again: Well, it's a guarantee I'm gonna watch again, what with the major recasting. There are so many things happening in the pilot, that I want to see a second episode just to get a feeling for what the weekly series is here. And how Simmons' character can possibly work longterm. But this isn't a very good pilot and it doesn't seem to have much upside for NBC.

 

Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Gang Related' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: The CW's 'The 100' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Resurrection' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Surviving Jack' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'About a Boy' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Believe' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Us & Them' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: The CW's 'Star-Crossed'  
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'Intelligence' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Crisis' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Rake'  
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'Mom' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Lucky 7'  
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Dads' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Super Fun Night'  
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Welcome to the Family' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'The Millers' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'The Goldbergs' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Ironside'
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'We Are Men' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Almost Human' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Back in the Game' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'Sean Saves the World' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: The CW's 'Reign' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'The Crazy Ones' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Enlisted' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Betrayal' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'The Blacklist' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: The CW's 'The Tomorrow People' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: CBS' 'Hostages' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: FOX's 'Sleepy Hollow' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: ABC's 'Trophy Wife' 
Take Me To The Pilots '13: NBC's 'The Michael J. Fox Show' 
All of my 2012 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2011 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2010 Take Me To The Pilots Entries

 

 

 
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