Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Season's Greetings
2006-09-28 11:30
by Jon Weisman

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.

2006-09-28 11:55:37
1.   Benaiah
I was wondering about 30 rock? What did people think? It seems like Studio 60 stole its thunder, but even then you would expect a little more fanfare for a SNL type show starring the first lady of SNL, Tina Fey. That said, I forgot to watch it. Was it funny? I need Tivo/DVR because I just can't keep up.
2006-09-28 12:06:21
2.   Jon Weisman
1 - It hasn't premiered - Stu saw a preview copy.
2006-09-28 15:05:31
3.   aloofman
I only discovered "24" last January and had caught up with the first four seasons by August. Now I'm in a bizarre holding pattern where season five has already aired, but I haven't seen it. The DVD should be released in December, so I'll have about six weeks before the new season starts in January.

I never used to watch serialized shows because I didn't have the TV discipline to watch a show every week at the same time. Miss one or two episodes and I'd be lost. But since shows came out on DVD and I got a DVR, now I don't have to be a TV slave. Thanks to DVD and Bravo I'm almost done with West Wing. I've caught up on Rescue Me just in time for season three reruns on FX. I'm rapidly catching up with Entourage. I'm about to start Nip/Tuck and Sopranos.

To be honest, I gave up on Deadwood after five or six episodes. There just wasn't enough happening to keep me interested, even though I love westerns. Maybe I let go of it too fast. And ever since I found out that "Lost" is designed for SEVEN seasons, I've been in no hurry to get started on that. Plenty of time to catch up there.

Even though I don't think that the quality of TV has gotten that much better, there are so many more channels and so much schedule flexibility now that I'm getting more enjoyment out of it.

2006-09-28 15:59:55
4.   GoBears
When will 30 Rock air?

Once Sopranos is done for good, I might have to go back and watch 24. I watched the first 3-4 episodes of the 1st season, but that included one in which basically nothing happened for an hour, and I felt exploited by the writers. I thought "no way I'm hanging around for 24 hours of this" and gave up. Once I'd missed a few, the ship had sailed.

I guess I had a hard time with the idea that watching every minute of a day could contain enough interesting stuff to keep watching but not so much as to be absolutely implausible.
Even busy days have downtime. Didn't Jack Bauer ever have to use the bathroom? One of the conceits of story-telling is that time can be skipped without missing any of the plot.

But everyone says it's great. I'll probably give it another shot.

2006-09-28 16:04:12
5.   GoBears
Oh, and congrats on the new job, Jon.
2006-09-28 16:18:12
6.   aloofman
4 - There is plenty of that, that a 24-hour period couldn't possibly be as eventful as Jack Bauer's is. But the writing, editing and multiple camera work keep things moving quickly, so even when something implausible happens (not so rare!), you just roll with it and keep going.

A few things mitigate the "every minute of every day" issue. One, the time continues rolling during commercial breaks, so you're really seeing about 43 minutes of each hour. Jack and Co. have plenty of time to take a leak during those times. There are also always multiple locations and story threads going on, with time elapsing for all of them concurrently. With really sharp editing, the threads are woven together well.

There are some occasional continuity issues. Sometimes the transition from darkness to morning is really abrupt. Sometimes a character covers a distance in an extremely short amount of time. And Jack recovers from injuries very, very quickly. But there's less of this than in a traditional show, as you mentioned.

Obviously it's not for everyone, but so much of it is well-done -- and the fact that the story is spread out over 24 episodes -- makes it easy to ignore how ridiculously chaotic this one day really is.

2006-09-28 16:22:59
7.   GoBears
6. Thanks for the pep-talk. I think I'd probably like it better if there were no clock. I could just remind myself at the end of each season/day: "Hey, that all happened in one day!"
2006-09-28 16:55:24
8.   Jon Weisman
I haven't watched 24 since partway through its second episode. I'm sure it's just dandy, I guess, but unlike other shows I regret missing out on, I've never felt any pull to watch it again.
2006-09-28 16:58:17
9.   aloofman
7 - You know, I don't really think about the "one day" aspect of it much during the show. You're kind of living in the now most of the time. One bit of freedom that it allows them is that they don't have to worry about showing much of a prelude or an aftermath. All that can be sorted out unseen between seasons.

8 - I kind of feel the same way about "Lost."

2006-09-28 17:26:34
10.   Telemachos
Congratulations on the new gig, Jon!

I never watch as many shows as I initially plan to/want to, but I'm always interested in discussions about them.

2006-09-28 17:28:14
11.   Underbruin
Jon - good stuff. I'm enjoying Screen Jam so far.

With regards to 24, I feel the same way, which is a problem because so many of my friends not only enjoy the show, but seem to be infatuated with it. Even now, years after he's left the show, when an 'Allstate' Insurance commercial comes on with one of them around s/he will pipe up with, "Hey, it's President Palmer!"


I think you and I had a back-and-forth on Lost in one of the tv threads over on DT a while back. But I was thinking about my feelings, and realized that it applies to a degree to almost all 'serialized' shows: I just don't like waiting 6 or 7 years for a story to unravel, one week at a time (unlike a movie trilogy, which is in bursts). I feel like I'm expected to try and not only keep up with everything, but also to somehow maintain my attachment to what's going on and the people on the show, which is so hard over such long periods of time. This applies for me to Lost, but also to many other serial shows (I do, however, love waiting until they're done and then watching them in one or two sittings...)


2006-09-28 17:28:33
12.   Telemachos
A follow-up comment, since I forgot to add it earlier: is anyone else as disappointed with "Jericho" as I am? It's a tremendous premise and has a good strong cast, but the pilot was all sorts of meh, and then some; so much so that I have little interest in following the show closely, though I might catch an episode a few weeks down the line just to see if it improved.
2006-09-28 17:54:31
13.   Marty
Congratulations Jon on the new job. My brother in law works at Variety in the IT department. I'll have him make sure you have no computer problems
2006-09-28 20:42:31
14.   Bob Timmermann
Marty's family has cornered the IT market.
2006-09-28 21:29:44
15.   Benaiah
I think 24 is one of the worst shows I have ever seen. Now, I only watched about 6-7 episodes of season 5, but the premise of packing as much "tension" into every second of every episode made me feel entirely uninterested. Don't you want to feel anything other than adreline when you watch TV? Plus, I always hear that Jack Bauer is so cool, but I thought it was the worst acting since David Caradine on CSI: Miami. Is that his real speaking voice? Eh, to each his own.

Was anyone else a little disappointed in the Office tonight? It had its moments (when Amy was feeding Ryan fries "But you love katshup.") but it wasn't as funny as the first episode and it actually made me feel bad for Michael, which I hate. It is a fine line to walk between pathetically funny and just pitiful and I think he was actually on the other side of it towards the end of the episode. Still, if this was a bad episode of the Office it was only because my expectations are so incredibly high.

2006-09-28 21:46:16
16.   Jon Weisman
15 - I liked the Office tonight. I also liked Ugly Betty.

You were good to pick out the Ryan-being-fed moment as a highlight, though.

2006-09-28 22:22:20
17.   JJoeScott
Wife & I have become big "24" fans after picking up the show late in its 3rd season.

Of course, if ever there was a show meant for Tivo, it's "24" -- those 43 minutes of actual time can be pared down even further and yet still leave you feeling satisfied.

2006-09-29 09:21:22
18.   JJoeScott
"The Office" line of the night ...

JAN: "Michael, I can't stay on top of you 24/7."

I lost it.

2006-09-29 09:48:01
19.   Howard Fox
Ugly is trying to compete for the Simpsons crowd...for evidence, look at what commercials are on

Grey's the waning years of Ally McBeal...just a sex show

Shark...I love James Woods, but there are already 3 Law & Order shows on tv show on tv, bar none...

2006-09-29 10:52:41
20.   GoBears
15 the worst acting since David Caradine on CSI: Miami. Is that his real speaking voice?

Hah! You're right about that. Except you meant to say David Caruso. I can't watch CSI:Miami, for that same reason.

2006-09-29 11:38:59
21.   Benaiah
20 - Yeah thats what I meant. I watched the show once, and I was incredulous. He is the star of the show and supposedly a big draw on shows like NYPD Blue, but his acting is reminiscent of Van Damme. He growls and over does even silly lines
2006-09-29 21:23:45
22.   Voxter
All this stuff about up-coming premeires and stuff and not a singe mention of "Veronica Mars" or "Battlestar Galactica"? Shameful, neglectful, wrong! (Okay, going overboard, but you get the idea.) Those shows are, respectively, my favorite, and in an unqualified way the best on television.

I, too, was a little disappointed by last night's episode of "The Office", which was weird, because the idea of Dwight at a sales convention just tickles me. I've noticed something about that show, though: There's a direct relationship between how embarassing an episode is, and how funny it is. And last night's episode was way less embarassing than usual.

As for "Lost," I felt it lost its way a little last year, and spent a lot of time meandering around without any sense (for me, at least) that anything that I cared about was happening -- it seemed to get wrapped up in its own surprise endings, and a profound number of the characters went from compelling to annoying (add to Sawyer, who already annoyed the crap out of me, Kate, Locke, Ana Lucia, and -- especially -- Michael). That said, I'm sticking with it, especially since it's not on opposite "Veronica Mars" anymore. It did pick up at the end of last season, though I found myself surprisingly uncompelled by its cliffhanger.

What else? "House" sucks. So does "24". "24", in particular, sets my teeth on edge; I tried to watch it in its first season, when my brother was a big fan, but Keifer Sutherland just drives me nuts in that part. My reaction to him is: "Seriously? That's how you think this guy talks? For real?"

"House" and "24" fans, consider yourselves antagonized!

2006-09-29 21:29:14
23.   dzzrtRatt
Keifer Sutherland has the kind of voice only heavy smokers have, but of course on the show, you never see him light up a butt.

That said, I never watched 24 til last season, and I thought it was spectacular. Chloe is a great character. I realize it's improbable, but really no more so than every other show on TV. In any city, do the same two police detectives work on high profile crimes, often involving celebrities and powerful executives, week after week? On Law and Order they do. I kept waiting for Lenny to tell his boss, "ain't you got anybody else?"

2006-09-29 22:58:27
24.   aloofman
22 - Since you're clearly inviting trash talk here, I'll indulge you. To say that Kiefer is laughable, but "Battlestar Galactica" is worth watching, well......let's just say your geek is showing. You might want to cover up, man.
2006-09-30 14:32:35
25.   Benaiah
24 - I have never seen B.G. but I don't really see how there could be a correlation between Kiefer Sutherland's acting and the show. I assume you mean questioning the believablity of one show when your own favorite show involves aliens, space ships and who knows what else. However, I think the major difference is that B.G. is a show where the premise is that you accept certain fantastic elements, though I assume you still want believability in other areas such as acting, plot, continuity ect, while 24 is a show thats premise is supposed to be ultra realistic (why it is even in real time!) and beyond that Kiefer Sutherland's "hard core" voice sounds assumed, which has nothing to do with the premise of the show and is just annoying. My real problem with the show is the need to constantly raise the stakes to the point where you are left completely numb every episode. It isn't that Jack Bauer faces the gruesome death every episode, but rather that he faces myrid mortal threats EVERY episode. There are other emotions than what you feel when you are falling down the stairs and trying to stop yourself. That's why I hate 24, but I still might like B.G.
2006-09-30 17:22:09
26.   aloofman
25 - It was a joke. He said he was trying to antagonize "24" fans, so I played along.
2006-10-02 00:21:07
27.   Voxter
25. - There are no aliens in "Battlestar Galactica". Just so you know. But thanks for rising to my defense.

"Battlestar Galactica" gets written off by a lot of people -- including me, in its first season -- because its title is kind of absurd, and it gets mixed up in their minds with crap like "Stargate Atlantis" and "Star Trek: Voyager". The fact is that it's a vastly better show, and appeals to many non-sci-fi-geeks. It delivers the most incisive moral and political commentary of any television I've ever seen -- far beyond anything Aaron Sorkin ever managed on "The West Wing" --, and gets away with it because it sets itself in a fantastical universe. The fact that it is simultaneously a great liberal show and a great conservative show really says something for its intellectual heft. Also, in Edward James Almost (Olmos -- sorry, I can never resist) and Mary MacDonnell, it has two of the best actors on television, bar-none.

It's also just really cool.

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