Tagged: ER

Mindy Newell: The Culture Cult

Newell Art 130107I was listening to NPR the other day – I think it was Leonard Lopate’s show – and the guest was television critic Alan Sepinwall, who used to write for New Jersey’s Star-Ledger and now has a regular column discussing television on Hitfix.com. Mr. Sepinwall is the author of the just published The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers And Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever, in which he hypothesizes that the same old same-old television drama in which the hero wears a white hat, the bad guy is in black, and truth, justice, and the American way prevails by the end of an episode, with all elements of the plot neatly wrapped up with a bow and placed under the Christmas tree (or Hanukah menorah) and with no messy, lingering thoughts to bother the viewer – is dead, gone the way of the dodo bird.

I found the conversation extremely interesting, especially as the shows Mr. Sepinwall believes are responsible for the new landscape of television drama are those usually associated with the word cult.

Cult, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, has several meanings, but in this case the one that applies is: a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad; (b) the object of such devotion; (c) a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion.

As in “the cult cop show The Shield.”  Or “the cult science fiction show Battlestar Galactica.” Or “the cult teenage horror-fantasy show Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” Or “the cult late 1950s – early 1960s drama Mad Men.”

I think this usually means that the person describing these shows really thinks “I haven’t seen it, but my colleague/competitor is raving about it, so I’d better get on the bandwagon so I can sound just as cool and auteur as he/she does.” It can also mean “everybody is talking about it in the office, and I don’t want to sound like I don’t know what they’re talking about, so I’ll just go along with whatever they’re saying.” Or it can mean “I tried watching it, and I just don’t get it, but my wife/kids/best friend/boss loves it, so I better pretend like I do.”

It also usually means that the shows don’t have the greatest ratings, but the network executives love the prestige and the publicity and being thought of as brilliant by the television critics who rave about the shows. (Hey, who doesn’t love an ego boost?)

These are the shows that Mr. Sepinwall believes ushered in a new “golden age” of television drama:

Oz (HBO, 1997 – 2003)

The Sopranos (HBO, 1999 – 2007)

The Wire (HBO, 2002 – 2008)

Deadwood (HBO, 2004 – 2006)

The Shield (FX, 2002 – 2008)

Lost (ABC, 2004 – 2010)

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (The WB, 1997 – 2003)

24 (Fox, 2001 – 2010)

Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi Channel, 2004 – 2009)

Friday Night Lights (NBC, 2006 – 2011)

Mad Men (AMC, 2007 – Present)

Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008 – Present)

Mr. Sepinwall also gives note to those shows he believes were the “building blocks” of this new millennial golden age of television:

Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981 -1987)

St. Elsewhere (NBC, 1982 – 1988)

Cheers (NBC, 1982 – 1993)

Miami Vice (NBC, 1984 – 1989)

Wiseguy (CBS, 1987 – 1990)

Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990 – 1991)

Homicide: Life On The Street (NBC, 1993 – 1999)

NYPD Blue (ABC, 1993 – 2005)

The X-Files (Fox, 1993 – 2002)

ER (NBC, 1994 – 2009)

I never considered Cheers or ER or even The Sopranos cult hits. But reading the book, I understood why Mr. Sepinwall included them – all of the shows took chances, whether it was in the scripts or in the use of the production values such as camera work or even simple casting. I also found, as I read the book, that it was really not so surprising that so many of the people involved both behind and in front of the camera have intertwined histories, or that at one point or another in their careers they believed themselves to be “hamstrung” by the parameters of the shows with which they were involved, whether through executive interference or through mythology.

Ron Moore described the mythos of Star Trek as a “fly stuck in amber.” Bottom line, every single one of them, whether network executive or producer or writer or actor, had a desire, an eagerness, a need to break barriers. Sometimes it was because, as in the case of the WB and Buffy, a “what the hell, what have we got to lose?” attitude, as a network tried to establish itself as a viable competitor to the “Big Three” and cable. And sometimes it was because one executive believed in the vision of one writer, as in the case of Bonnie Hammer and Ron Moore.

If you’re a cultist like me (also known as a nerd or a geek), I recommend you read this book.

•     •     •     •     •

On a personal note… The Newells have been participants in an honest-to-God miracle.

My father suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve that progressed to continuous seizure activity. After four days in the hospital, with nothing left to do, we brought him home to die surrounded by the family he loved him.

On New Year’s Eve, he woke up.

He has no memory of that week. He has residual left side weakness, but he is getting stronger every day with the help of physical and occupational therapy. And he has the appetite of an elephant. Yesterday all he wanted was a pastrami sandwich on rye with mustard, which he ate vigorously.

He’s not out of the woods yet, but he’s got his throttle all the way open, and his nose up in the air and he’s pushing the envelope, chasing the demons that live in the sky.




REVIEW: Terra Nova

Any time Steven Spielberg comes to television, it’s always with something different. He honored the anthology series of his youth with Amazing Stories and lent his storytelling expertise to get ER launched, making that into a smash hit for NBC. So, when Fox heard of a series about humans and dinosaurs and Spielberg, it seemed like a no brainer. If anyone could get dinosaurs to work convincingly on the small screen, it was the director of Jurassic Park. What the network couldn’t count on was the full extent of Spielberg’s involvement and in time the series was placed under showrunner Brannon Braga’s control. Braga cut his teeth on Star Trek: The Next Generation and has gone on to do other genre fare, but he can’t seem to repeatedly sacrifice characterization in favor of conspiracy and that’s where Terra Nova fell off the rails.

Delayed by schedule issues as the massive CGI prehistoric creatures proved more difficult to execute on a budget, the series debuted last fall and for 14 episodes, we were treated to a series with tremendous potential, most of it wasted.

In 2149, mankind has choked the world so badly that time travel to resettle humanity in the past was the best hope for survival. A colony was established and those fortunate enough to be picked were sent in waves, controlling the impact of man altering the past. We follow the Shannon family from this wretched dystopia to the clean air of the past and see if people can do better when given a better chance. Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) is in jail for violating population laws and conceiving a third child but is broken free and joins his wife, Dr. Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn), 17 year old son Josh (Landon Liboiron), 16 year old daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott), and five year old Zoe (Alana Mansour), as they join the Tenth Pilgrimage 85 Million years back in time.

Terra Nova is a thriving colony under the command of Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang) and contains enough raw power to protect the populace from the mammoth critters that wander the jungles just beyond their walls. While the thrust of the stories should have been the struggle to adapt to the environment and its deadly inhabitants, Braga had other ideas. Apparently, The Others, I mean the Sixers split back during the sixth pilgrimage and are working with unknown forces back in the future to seize the pristine world’s resources. Then there’s the mystery of Taylor’s son, a genius who was either part of the conspiracy or its pawn. Add in a blackmarketeer, a teen turned traitor to save her ill mother, young romance, and a few other threads, you get a crazy quilt of plots that could actually be told in any other environment.

The show failed to be different from its genre competitors because it avoided the most unique element going for it: dinosaurs! Man versus nature! How do the people adapt to diseases, microbes, and minerals they never encountered before? How do they ensure each step they take beyond the colony does not in some way create a vastly different tomorrow? Nope, the show skips all of those possibilities for conspiracies and soap operas.

The appealing cast does its best with weak material but by the end of the series, it was clear that there would be little progress in solving these dilemmas and when the plug was mercifully pulled in March, it vanished without much of an imprint in the genre or prime time television.

The complete series is presented on four standard definition discs from 20th Century Home Entertainment. In addition to fourteen hours of drama, the set comes with complete with some vaguely interesting deleted scenes and an extended version of “Occupation/Resistance”, the two-part finale (there’s also an audio commentary from Stephen Lang, Brannon Braga and Rene Echevarria). There are a handful of somewhat interesting “Director’s Diaries – Making the Pilot” with comments from Alex Graves, whose work I have generally admired. Finally, there is a brief look at “Cretaceous Life: The Dinosaurs of Terra Nova”, which should enlighten younger viewers who can’t get enough dinosaurs, and “Mysteries Explored”, delving into the less interest aspects of this failed series. Rounding things out is a gag reel.

A series with potential like this is all the more disappointing when it does not embrace its strengths in favor of a creator’s personal interests. Had Spielberg been more hands on, things might have turned out differently, but as it stands, the show is a mildly engaging misfire.

Warner Premiere Formally Announces ‘All-Star Superman’

Warner Premiere Formally Announces ‘All-Star Superman’

DC Entertainment’s All-Star Superman was one of the better things to be released by the company during the past decade. It was universally acclaimed and awarded, recently being collected in an Absolute edition. Now, Warner Premiere is tackling Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s 12-part saga as their next animated feature. Here’s the formal press release:

BURBANK, CA, (November 29th, 2010) – Grant Morrison’s beloved, Eisner Award-winning vision of Superman’s heroic final days on Earth is brought to exquisite animated life in All-Star Superman, the latest entry in the popular, ongoing series of DC Universe Animated Original Movies coming February 22, 2011 from Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation. The highly-anticipated, full-length film will be distributed by Warner Home Video as a Blu-Ray™ Combo Pack and 2-Disc Special Edition DVD for $24.98 (SRP), as well as single disc DVD for $19.98 (SRP). The film will also be available On Demand and for Download.

In All-Star Superman, the Man of Steel rescues an ill-fated mission to the Sun (sabotaged by Lex Luthor) and, in the process, is oversaturated by radiation – which accelerates his cell degeneration. Sensing even he will be unable to cheat death, Superman ventures into new realms – finally revealing his secret to Lois, confronting Lex Luthor’s perspective of humanity, and attempting to ensure Earth’s safety before his own impending end with one final, selfless act.

The celebrity-packed voice cast is headed by James Denton (Desperate Housewives) as Superman, Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) as Lois Lane, and Anthony LaPaglia (Without A Trace) as Lex Luthor. The stellar cast includes seven-time Emmy® Award winner Ed Asner (Up) as Perry White, Golden Globe® winner Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) as Ma Kent, Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) as Jimmy Olsen and Linda Cardellini (ER) as Nasty. 
Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy), Catherine Cavadini (The Powerpuff Girls), Finola Hughes (General Hospital), Alexis Denisof (Angel), Obba Babatunde (That Thing You Do!), Michael Gough (Batman) and John DiMaggio (Futurama) round out the voice cast.

Based on the Eisner Award-winning DC Comics series/graphic novel of the same name by Grant Morrison with illustration by Frank Quitely, All-Star Superman is executive produced by animation guru Bruce Timm and directed by Sam Liu (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths) from a script by acclaimed comics writer Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths). (more…)

Weird headline of the day: ‘Doctor Who Tried To Save JFK Dies’

Weird headline of the day: ‘Doctor Who Tried To Save JFK Dies’

When I read this headline, I thought that Doctor Who had gone back to November 22, 1963– the day that Doctor Who premiered on the BBC, by the way– and had tried to save John F. Kennedy.

But no. The story merely notes the passing of Dr. Malcolm Perry, who was the ER doctor on duty in Dallas on that fateful day.

But we all know the Doctor was there, right? No? Well, then perhaps you may want to read this, with an even more confusing title:

Originally published by Virgin Publishing Ltd in 1996, Who
Killed Kennedy
has long been out-of-print and consequently has become much
sought-after by Doctor Who book collectors, but is now available online as an e-book.

Screen Actors Guild Honors Ledger, Downey

Screen Actors Guild Honors Ledger, Downey

Following the Golden Globe nominations, Heath Ledger has received another posthumous nod for his role as the Joker, this time from his peers in the Screen Actor’s Guild.  He’s nomination once more alongside Robert Downey, Jr. who is recognized for his hilarious turn in Tropic Thunder. On the television side, William Shatner is once more honored for his work in the final season of Boston Legal.

The full release is here:

Nominations for the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards® for outstanding performances in 2008 in five film and eight primetime television categories and for the SAG honors for film and television stunt ensembles were announced this morning in Los Angeles at the Pacific Design Center’s Silver Screen Theater in West Hollywood.

Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg introduced Angela Bassett (ER) and Actor recipient Eric McCormack (Will & Grace), who announced the nominees for this year’s Actors. SAG Awards Committee member JoBeth Williams and Committee Vice Chair Daryl Anderson announced the stunt ensemble nominees.

The 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be simulcast live nationally on TNT and TBS on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. CT, and 6 p.m. MT from the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center. Recipients of the stunt ensemble honors will be announced from the SAG Awards red carpet during the TNT.TV and TBS.COM live pre-show webcasts.

Of the top industry accolades presented to performers, only the Screen Actors Guild Awards are selected solely by actors’ peers.  Two randomly selected panels–one for television and one for film–each comprised of 2,100 Guild members from across the United States, chose this year’s Actor and stunt honors nominees. Integrity Voting Systems, the Awards’ official teller mailed the nominations secret ballots were mailed on November 26. Voting was completed by noon Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008.

Awards ballots will be mailed on Friday, Dec. 26, 2008. The entire active membership of the Guild across the country will vote on all categories.  Votes must be received by Integrity Voting Systems by noon Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 where results will be tallied and sealed until they are opened by the presenters at the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremonies on Jan. 25.

The Screen Actors Guild Post-Awards Gala, benefiting the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, will be hosted for the 13th consecutive year by People Magazine and by the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF).


BBC Plans New ‘Day of the Triffids’ Adaptation

BBC Plans New ‘Day of the Triffids’ Adaptation

With the global ecology a hot topic these days, it’s little surprise the BBC is planning a new version of the classic tale The Day of the Triffids. It all started with the 1951 post-apocalyptic novel by John Wyndham.

The story, according to the BBC tells of “Bill Masen, who awakes in a hospital after treatment for temporary blindness caused by a sting from a genetically modified plant, a triffid.”

"The first 45 minutes of 28 Days Later are the first three chapters of The Day of the Triffids, marginally modified with the addition of zombies," said Dr Barry Langford, senior lecturer in film and television at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The novel received immediate acclaim was first adapted for BBC radio in 1953, 157 and 1958 before the 1962 feature film.  The BBC did subsequent productions in 1971, 1973 and 1980.

It was also adapted by Marvel in 1975 for an issue of their Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction while a British television series was produced in 1981. The new production is being written by Patrick Harbinson (ER).

"The triffids are perhaps to us a more potent threat than even in Wyndham’s time," Dr Langford added.

Andy Sawyer, librarian at the Science Fiction Foundation Collection at the University of Liverpool, told the BBC. "It has become relevant. There is a lot more anxiety about bio engineering now."

The images of empty cities was a haunting one in the book and one which continues to resonate in post-apocalyptic fiction including next year’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

NBC Trims “Knight Rider’

NBC Trims “Knight Rider’

NBC wound up trailing the other networks by a day with their midseason announcements.  Among the details is the coveted post-Super Bowl slot going to an hour-long episode of The Office.

The following day, February 2, Chuck will air it’s 3-D episode and Heroes kicks off its new volume.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, NBC has reconsidered its commitment to the underperforming Knight Rider.  Early encouraging ratings prompted the peacock network to give the show a full season pick up.  Ratings flattened once people realized the show wasn’t very good.  The producers trashed half the cast but ratings tumbled before the revamped episodes could air and now the order has been cut back from 22 to 17 with the season and likely series finale set for February 25.

After 15 years, ER closes its doors to new cases on March 12 with a two-hour finale that is said to be filled with flashbacks throughout the years to acknowledge the ever-changing cast. The following week, Kings from Michael Green, will debut with a two-hour opening installment.

Michael Crichton Dies

Michael Crichton Dies

Michael Crichton, the million-selling author of such historic and prehistoric science thrillers as Jurassic Park, Timeline and The Andromeda Strain has died of cancer, his family said. He died Tuesday in Los Angeles at age 66 after a long battle with the illness.

Michael started his career writing under the pseudonyms "John Lange" and "Jeffrey Hudson" but was soon published under his own name and developed a loyal following of readers. He is also credited as creator of NBC’s long-runing hit series ER.

Although many felt he was a crusader for "anti-technology" this was more of a commentary on scientists who would make breakthroughs without considering their impact on society around them.

At his family’s request, the details of his funeral are being kept private.

I am Spartacus!

I am Spartacus!

The cry of “I am Spartacus!” will once more resound, this time weekly. Starz will air a new 13-episode series from executive producers Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Joshua Donen.

The premium movie channel has already produced Crash, a weekly series based on the Oscar-winning film, which began airing several weeks back. This will be the first in-house production for the channel. Steven S. DeKnight (Smallville) will be the head writer and showrunner.

Raimi, Tapert, and Donen developed the series and intend to produce the series in New Zealand in time for debut next summer. Each episode is likely to have a budget in excess of $2 million, surpassing their other series, Legend of the Seeker.  The world of ancient Rome will be digitally rendered, a first for a weekly TV series.

No casting has been announced as yet.

The real story of the slave who led a rebellion against his Roman captors in 73 A.D. was immortalized in the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas which won four Academy Awards. It was most recently retold as a 2004 miniseries starring ER’s Goran Visnjic and Rhona Mitra.

"This is not going to be at all like the 1960s Kirk Douglas film," Starz Entertainment executive vp programming Stephan Shelanski told The Hollywood Reporter. "We didn’t want your typical sword-and-sandals. It’s going to be fun, fast-moving, full of action and interesting characters and have a little more depth to it than the 1960s film."

Shelanski says the channel acknowledges the storytelling has to be done for an audience primed by movies like 300.  Being a premium channel, they can go for R-rated violence and storytelling. "It will bring the younger audience who has grown up on graphic novels and video games this heightened reality; it’s not going to look like anything you’ve seen before, especially on TV," said executive vp original production William Hamm. Hamm has previously worked with Raimi and Tapert at Universal TV to produce the similar Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

‘Knight Rider’, ‘Sarah Connor’ Both get Script Orders

‘Knight Rider’, ‘Sarah Connor’ Both get Script Orders

Much to our collective surprise, NBC has ordered four additional scripts for the revival and reviled Knight Rider. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series’ ratings have been somewhat encouraging after a few airings.

Meantime, producers of Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, report they too have reason to be hopeful.

On the show’s official blog, they wrote: “Because so many of you, our most devoted fans, have been asking, we wanted to set the record straight!

“While the fate of the show past production on episode thirteen is still unclear, FOX has given us the go-ahead to write two more additional episodes for this season — fourteen and fifteen.

“We are hard at work writing those episodes and await news of a potential pickup for the full ‘back nine’ (additional episodes to complete the season) in the near future. We’re crossing our fingers (and dotting our i’s) that we’ll have more good news to share with you soon…

“In the meantime, keep tuning in! Get your friends interested! And thanks for all of your support.”

Meantime, its companion series, Fringe, has been given a full-season pick-up.

Last Thursday night, ABC debuted its adaptation of Life on Mars, opposite CBS’ adaptation of Eleventh Hour. Much has been made of both shows’ pilots being almost shot for shot remakes of their British counterparts.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, “None of this stopped viewers tuning in with all the shows scoring strongly in the overnight ratings despite a real mixed bag of reviews ranging from the scathing to the glorious.”  This also includes NBC’s Kath and Kim, remaking an Australian sitcom that received horrendous reviews from coast to coast.

“Though fourth in its timeslot, the show did grow from the 4.6/7 rating lead-in of My Name is Earl. This is very shaky ground however and coming weeks, not to mention the word of mouth, will determine if it will stay on the schedule,” the paper noted.

Eleventh Hour was second in the competitive 10 p.m. slot, following Life on Mars. Some concern was raised over the new series losing half the audience from the previous show, CSI. In third was NBC’s ER, now in its final season.

Of the shows debuting Thursday night, the best reviewed, and cast, was Life on Mars. “Audiences seemed to dig it though with the pilot scoring a 8.2/14 rating – winning its timeslot and coming third for the night. Better yet it managed to maintain over 80% of its lead-in audience from Grey’s Anatomy,” the trade noted.