In May, I chatted online about the 2005-06 TV season with Stuart Levine, Senior Editor for the features section of Variety. Stu and I are now in much closer proximity, because this week, after 4 1/2 years as Senior Writer/Editor at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I began working at Variety as an Associate Editor in features - which means I'll spend my daylight hours doing much of what Stu does, only with less expertise.
Anyway, this move, combined with this month's debut of Screen Jam and the recent start to the 2006-07 small screen season (at least, my screen at home is still small - your screen may be bigger than my house, for all I know), seemed to make this an ideal time to reconnect with Stu. Again, hope you enjoy it.
Jon: Okay, we're about 25 feet from each other, but I'm sitting with my back to you, communicating by e-mail. All for the sake of the fan(s) out there. Let's start with your overall take on the new season. What's your standout show - or has that show not yet premiered?
Stu: Tough to say if I would call one a standout. There are several I like, including Studio 60 (which, as you previously stated on the blog, has some problems but Sorkin's woes are better than a lot of other stuff), The Nine,Kidnapped and Shark. Others that have intrigued me are Friday Night Lights and Heroes, the only show to be a big ratings winner so far.
On the comedy side, I'm giving second and third looks to 30 Rock,The Class and Knights of Prosperity. All those, plus my usual viewing pleasures coming back for another season, have my TiVo working OT.
Jon:Kidnapped is shaping up to be one of the season's bigger disappointments both critically and commercially. Conversely, the buzz about Heroes has caught me off-guard - I'm going to try to catch that when it reruns on SciFi later this week. The Class is warm and fuzzy but with a gooey center, and I may wean myself off that very soon. The show has too many on-the-nose moments, and in particular, I really don't see what mileage they're getting out of the flamboyantly gay husband (Sam Harris).
Six Degrees, I thought, had a nice debut and could do better once it gets a handle on how to deal with its gimmick of people meeting and passing each other by. But it dropped a ton of its Grey's Anatomy lead-in. I don't know - maybe this J.J. Abrams show will get extra rope.
Stu: I thought Kidnapped had some real potential and was much better than Fox's Vanished, both of which centered on missing persons. If the ratings for Kidnapped continue to fall, it'll be interesting to see how long NBC will keep it on the air. During the summer at the TV Critics tour, all the network presidents were asked about expecting viewer loyalty for these serialized shows. If they don't do well, will the networks pull them off the air before the ending is ever revealed ... meaning the viewers invested all that time for nothing? How will a network be able to ask audiences, with a straight face, to watch its next serialized show next time around if they cheated viewers the first time around?
As for Six Degrees, I think it's one of the biggest disappointments of the season. It tries to play like a cool indie movie with lots of indie film actors - Campbell Scott, Erika Christensen, Hope Davis - but the storylines seem so abstract and never come together. Maybe they will by episode 11, but I know I won't be around that long to find out. And the fact it comes from J.J. Abrams also hurts. Although Lost is fantastic, both Six Degrees and What About Brian, which amazingly made it back for season two, have been major misfires for J.J.
Jon: You've already offered Knights of Prosperity as a promising candidate among shows yet to premiere. What else have you previewed? Ugly Betty, debuting tonight, got some late-summer buzz, but something tells me now that it might be getting overhyped.
Stu: Yeah, that seems to be the show ABC is relying upon for a big number, and it could be a hit, but Thursdays are so tough. I can't remember even during NBC's heyday with Hill Street,L.A. Law,Cosby,Cheers and Seinfeld when Thursday has been so packed with lots of good shows on all the different networks.
Betty will be going up against Survivor not what it once was but still a player My Name Is Earl, Emmy winner The Office and Smallville, which has a small but loyal fan base. At 9, there's Grey's Anatomy and CSI and at 10, Shark and ER, which started great in its 14th season far from life support.
I also think Friday Night Lights is also pretty good (Tuesdays at 8 on NBC), but sports-themed shows often have a hard time staying on the air. I think the last great primetime sports drama was The White Shadow (1978-81). Where's Coolidge when you need him?
Jon: Hopefully not still working as an orderly at St. Eligius. Let's talk some more about returning shows before we wrap up. You and I still disagree on Office - I just think that show is so rich, but from what I can tell, you're immune to its charms. I think the season premiere showed it hasn't lost any momentum. The latest Earl, on the other hand, was a little flat for me. House had a good season premiere and a couple of the follow-ups have really gotten to me, though the Joel Grey episode was not one of its best.
As for Grey's Anatomy, that show may be reaching the point where I don't know if I could recognize a good episode - I can't seem to stop picking out the flaws. Chandra Wilson's character has turned inside out - she was once biting with hidden vulnerability, now she's vulnerable with only occasional bite. The tri-crush on Meredith is becoming more implausible. (And again, I recommend Jack on Men in Trees as an alternative to Dr. McDreamy.) The best parts of the season premiere were Sandra Oh and recurring guest Loretta Devine as Adele, Dr. Webber's wife.
Stu: I'm with you on Grey's. I championed the show early on but the end of last season was so over the top I lost a lot of interest. It's still good, for the most part, but it's teetering on being just a ridiculous soap opera at this point. And I can't stand Sandra Oh's character. She's always whining about something and is never happy. What Dr. Burke sees in her, I have no idea but I would recommend he dump her sooner rather than later.
I'm excited about the new season of Lost and am enjoying House too. And one of these years I should start watching 24, so maybe when it returns in January I'll finally join the rest of the world.
Off topic for a moment, but I have to say the two most exciting TV events of the year for me are the Sunday at the Masters and the final table of the World Series of Poker on ESPN. I watched the latter this morning (it's still buzzing around in my head) and was riveted. I'm a bit of a poker junkie so I really can't get enough of it.
And if the pennant race is anything like last night, when I was switching between the Dodgers and Phillies games, I'll never catch up on my regular primetime programming on TiVo. But, if the Dodgers can hold on, I'd take that happy diversion and catch up later.
Jon: Pennant-race/postseason baseball and testing out the new fall season crushes me every year. What can I say - I'm a sucker for the stuff. Thanks for the chat - we'll have to do it again soon.