A show that shouldn't have worked instead became a great, popular, influential one
In an early episode of "The Office," Michael Scott has a client meeting at a local Chili's, accompanied by his very skeptical boss from corporate (and unrequited crush) Jan. Jan understandably views Michael in the same way we do after a dozen installments of the young NBC series: as a buffoon who is painfully, erroneously convinced of his gifts as a boss, as a salesman and, especially, as a comedian. The early part of the meeting couldn't seem to be going worse, with Michael continually disrupting every one of Jan's attempts to talk about making what could potentially be a huge sale, telling off-color jokes, playing Truth or Dare and pressing Jan for embarrassing details about the end of her marriage. It's another obvious Michael Scott disaster in the making.
And then to our amazement, and to Jan's, Michael pulls it off. It turns out Michael understood the client better than Jan did and was expertly bonding with him long before he first mentioned business. He makes the impossible sale, and even winds up spending the night with an impressed (and very drunk) Jan.
That, in a nutshell, is the American version of "The Office," which ends tonight at 9. By almost any reasonable argument, it had no business working, creatively or commercially. It was messy. It was problematic. At times it could be mortifying. And all the odds were stacked against it from the start. Yet here we sit, hours away from the show ending its run after nine seasons, 200-odd episodes, and a long stretch of critical adoration (even if these last few seasons have been pretty rough). And like Jan watching Michael close that sale, it's not hard to sit back, marvel and ask, simply,
How the hell did that happen?
Some experimenting, but mostly the same old, successful CBS
NEW YORK -- Every year at Upfront Week, CBS represents stability in an unstable business. Where the other networks at Upfront Week seem to be in a constant state of turmoil, swapping out executives and casting about for a workable business model, CBS has had the same management team in place for 18 years, is the one broadcast network left that actually operates like — and has the audience of — a broadcaster, and runs a very predictable, very successful playbook. This will be the first season since 1991-92 that the network will finish a season in first place among adults 18-49, the demographic advertisers care about most.
So going into the upfronts, you could have made some easy predictions about what CBS would do: another "NCIS" spin-off, probably airing after the other two; a "Beverly Hills Cop" sequel (with Eddie Murphy in a recurring role) to appeal to multiple generations of viewers; lots of crime procedurals that could comfortably air repeats throughout the year; and another freshman class of traditional multi-camera sitcoms that won't get the buzz of the stuff that NBC, FOX and ABC do, but will get ratings that those networks would kill for.
You also would have been wrong on pretty much every front.
Has the show solved Winston yet? What stories would she redo?
"New Girl" was one of my favorite comedies on TV in 2012 (as I've said, if I had to make my top 10 list even a week later, it would've made the cut). It was actually even better in 2013, as a romance that I once was dreading when the show began hinting at it instead became the magnetic center of a series that had been satisfying but often uneven. I reviewed the season finale here, and I spoke with "New Girl" creator Liz Meriwether about how the show really found itself thanks to the Jess/Nick relationship, whether she feels they've solved Winston yet, what she'd like to do in season 3, and more, all coming up just as soon as the plan is to drop a badger on a priest...
A badger gets loose at Cece's wedding, and Nick and Jess ponder their future
"New Girl" just concluded what's been a terrific second season. I spoke to creator Liz Meriwether about the finale, and about some big decisions along the way, and I have a quick review of the finale coming up just as soon as we make some pasta and really listen to my Coldplay bootleg from Rotterdam...
Dan and Alan break down the first batch of fall schedules
It's Upfront Week here at the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, which means the first of what should be two installments. In this one, we discuss NBC, FOX and ABC, then get into the "Community" and "How I Met Your Mother" finales before breaking down the latest "Mad Men." Speaking of which, here is the promised photo of a young Cloris Leachman that we discussed during the "Mad Men" segment:
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, download the MP3 file or stream it on Dan's blog.
And as always, feel free to e-mail us questions for the podcast.
Agent Coulson puts together a team that's 'not exactly a team'
ABC just finished its upfront presentation, and it saved the best — or, at least, the show everyone around here cares about the most by far — for last, concluding the show by bringing Joss Whedon on stage with Clark Gregg and the rest of the cast of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Joss described the show as about "what it's like to be an ordinary person in an increasingly extraordinary and unreal world," and warned his actors that they were about to be the subjects of "some really inappropriate fanfic," then introduced the 3-minute trailer for the series.
Again, these are trailers and not actual pilots, and it's easier to make a quippy action show look good than to, say, try to make a riveting pilot for "Tremé." But as my first even slightly extended look at what Whedon (and Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen) intend to do with the Marvel universe on the small screen, it's an excellent start. Enjoy:
Will the fanboys come in big numbers for Agent Coulson? And why is the 'Once Upon a Time' spin-off airing on Thursdays?
Every year at upfront time, ABC seems to be in the same situation, doing the same things. They're a network with a number of genuine hits ("Modern Family," "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal"), and yet that struggles in the overall ratings (this season, they'll again finish fourth among adults 18-49). And each year they respond with a ton of high-concept new series — next season will feature a dozen new sitcoms and dramas, including "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and the "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" spin-off — that will be placed into problematic timeslots and/or left to fend for themselves.
A reaction to comments from the 'HIMYM' creators about the structure of the final season
I already reviewed the "How I Met Your Mother" season finale last night, but I have some morning-after thoughts — including words from Carter Bays — on what the episode means for the show's final season, coming up just as soon as we watch a movie that doesn't start with a desk lamp jumping on top of a capital I...
Ted, Lily and Marshall make travel plans for after Robin and Barney's wedding, and a new player enters the scene
Does FOX have enough inventory to fill all the gaps on the annual schedule? And will 'Bones' really air on Fridays?
Of the cliches that get spouted every year by network presidents during Upfront Week, one of the most popular is the idea of doing year-round programming with few repeats. Usually, the reality falls well short of that, with the usual confusing pre-emptions and dead spots. With the usual skepticism in mind — we're talking about a network that practically every year (including this one) claims that "Bones" will move to Fridays, and then never actually puts it there — FOX's Kevin Reilly sounded more convincing than most when he made that promise.