Sci-fi – Why doesn’t it work on TV?

27 05 2011

Last week, I read the sad news that ABC was canceling “V” after its second season and NBC had decided to not renew “The Event” for a second season. Neither piece of news was super surprising, given the dwindling ratings both shows had experienced after strong starts. Also last week, as networks announced their new shows for the fall season, several much-hyped sci-fi or superhero shows failed to get picked up. The revamped “Wonder Woman” and “17th Precinct” by “Battlestar Galactica” creator Ron Moore were both passed over by NBC. With “Smallville” coming to an end after 10 seasons, the sci-fi/superhero prospects for next season don’t look very good.

Do all these things point to the death of sci-fi and superhero shows on TV?  I almost hope that it does. As a huge sci-fi fan, that is very hard for me to say. However, it is very frustrating to repeatedly get invested in a new show, only to see the rug pulled out after one or two seasons by the network. Thanks to the cancellation of these shows, we’ll never know what “The Event” really was or if the humans would be able to fight off the evil aliens with the help of Marc Singer. Even the network that is supposed to be all about science fiction (SyFy) doesn’t give its shows enough time to grow and build an audience. “Stargate Universe” ended recently after its second season with the crew in stasis for the next 3 years on a course for a new galaxy.

I almost wish they would never launch these shows if they aren’t going to give them time to tell a complete story. I hate being left hanging. That’s why even if I start reading a book or watching a movie and it’s not very good, there still is part of me that wants to find out how it ends. So if I feel that way about a story I don’t really enjoy, imagine how disappointed I am at not being able to find out how a  story ends that I really like. I guess I like closure. I think I need to go into therapy to deal with my issues of being abandoned by my favorite TV shows. Read the rest of this entry »


Happy 10th birthday “American Idol” – Hope I enjoy the party.

19 01 2011

“American Idol” returns for its 10th season, and while there will be many cosmetic changes, at its heart, the song remains the same. Last year, the runaway hit show began to show its first real signs of age. The show remained the No. 1 show for the 2009-10 season. However, the season finale drew in “only” 24 million viewers, the lowest numbers for the show since 2002. So this year, the producers got out their scalpels and decided to perform a little plastic surgery, hoping to make their show appealing again.

Steven Tyler, left, and Jennifer Lopez, center, join Randy Jackson as judges for season 10 of "American Idol."

Perhaps the biggest noticeable change will be the absence of the Man In Black – Simon Cowell. His often caustic but honest remarks toward the singer wanna-be’s became a huge selling point for the show. While the other judges danced around the reality of a singer’s lack of talent – Randy with his “mmmmm dawg, I don’t know” and Paula with her smiles and pleasant comments – Simon was the one with the guts to call a spade a spade. Some people thought he was mean, but I thought he was just what the show, and the delusional singers, needed. I certainly will miss him.

But he’s not the only judge from last season who you won’t see on Fox tonight. One-year resident Ellen DeGeneres jumped ship and Kara DioGuardi was shown the door after two years, leaving only Randy Jackson out of the three original judges. After many rumors and much Internet speculation, singer/actress Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler were announced to be joining The Dawg. Only time will tell, but I think these two should be good additions to the judge’s panel. They both obviously have tons of experience in the music business, and they both have larger-than-life personalities, so we shouldn’t have to worry about them being boring.

Also, with Simon Cowell gone, the producers brought on Jimmy Iovine as in-house mentor for the contestants. Iovine has nearly 40 years of experience in the music industry and is the chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M, lending a lot of credibility.

Other changes are largely procedural. This year, there will not be a forced even split between guys and girls. It will be the top talent making it through, regardless of gender. There also are unconfirmed rumors that changes will be made in Hollywood Week and how the finalists will be narrowed down. Apparently, the top 60 singers were flown to Las Vegas to perform on the same stage as the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show “Love.” Those 60 will be further whittled down before the semifinal round, when America finally gets to vote on who makes the finals.

No matter what changes the Powers That Be may have made with the judges and the nuts-and-bolts of how the contestants are chosen and advance to the finals, what this show really needs is some really awesome singers who can connect with the audience. Last season, there were no contestants that had the wow factor to make me tune in every week. No Chris Daughtry, no David Cook, no Adam Lambert even. Has anyone bought or downloaded the new CDs by last year’s final two, Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersock?

I certainly will be tuning in tonight to see what happens with the new judges and to enjoy the annual line of clowns that get paraded before the judges for us to laugh at. After that, it will depend on the contestants that make it through to the finals. If none of them grab my attention, I may not tune in for the whole season.

So only time will tell if all these changes can give new life to “Idol” or if it is the show “jumping the shark” and just biding time until it dies. But for now, here’s hoping for a great 10th season of  “American Idol.” Happy birthday to you.

Reading this blog is not “The Event”

8 09 2010

I don’t know what “The Event” is. No one does. But thanks to the marketing campaign from NBC, I can’t wait to find out.

NBC has done a magnificent job of building up the hype for their new show. Their series of commercials saying “Plot point A is not The Event” has been the perfect balance of tease and reveal, but mostly tease. They really have not told us much at all about what the show is really about. What we do know is that some event happened and there is a big conspiracy to cover it up. Blair Underwood plays the President, who apparently doesn’t know about the event. Jason Ritter stars as a man whose girlfriend goes missing on a cruise ship. While he investigates her disappearance, he uncovers the conspiracy surrounding “The Event.” Laura Innes of “ER” fame plays the leader of a mysterious group of inmates somehow involved in “The Event.”

Personally, I’m guessing that the group of inmates are aliens and “The Event” was their arrival on Earth. I kind of hope I’m wrong and it actually is something more mysterious than that. I certainly will be tuning in Monday, Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. ET when the show debuts. The show’s creators are promising answers to big questions early on, hoping to avoid viewers tuning out when questions pile up exponentially faster than answers. I hope this is true. And I hope viewers who tune in for the first episode will stick it out for the whole season to find out what is really going on.

Last year, I was very excited to watch “FlashForward,” as were more than 12 million other people who watched the premiere episode on Sept. 27, 2009. By Dec. 6, 2009, only 7 million people watched the 11th episode. Almost half of the viewers had tuned out in less than three months.  There could be many reasons for this. But I bet in large part it was because viewers wanted answers immediately and didn’t get them.

And now that “Lost” has concluded after six mysterious, mind-bending seasons with many important questions left unanswered, genre fans are going to be even less willing to watch shows long-term that drag out mysteries with no sign of resolution. We love mysteries and strange happenings. But more often than not, we want some sort of explanation or resolution, even if it is a supernatural or magical answer. 

We only have to wait 12 more days to get our first taste of “The Event.” I hope it is worth the wait. Or else we might find out the answer to the question: If you have an “Event” and no one shows up to watch, is it really an “Event.”

Idol reborn?

4 08 2010

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post declaring “American Idol” dead, or at least having one foot in the grave. The 2010 season of the “talent show” was less than thrilling. Ellen annoyed me and Kara and Simon’s banter couldn’t replace the rapport Simon and Paula had shared. I was ready to stop watching the show. In fact, I only half-watched as Lee DeWyze was named the next American Idol.

Simon had announced that he would not be returning for another season. Then, last week, Ellen announced she was done with the show. And a day later, reports began to surface that Kara had been fired from the show. That left only the Dawg, Randy Jackson, under contract as a judge. Rumors have been swirling about replacement judges. Everyone from Howard Stern to Justin Timberlake were mentioned as possibly joining the hit show.

However, according to entertainment site TMZ (, the replacements have been chosen, and all that’s left is to sign the contracts. Reportedly, Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith frontman Stephen Tyler will join Jackson on the new 3-judge panel when the new season gets under way in January 2011. Fox has not issued a statement yet, and probably won’t until all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.

If JLo and Tyler do join “Idol,” their addition would certainly breath new life into the aging show. Both of them are huge personalities who have enjoyed huge success in the music industry. Their comments would definitely carry more weight and be more respected than the inane chatter Ellen would throw around. Even Kara, who has been a successful songwriter for years, never seemed quite comfortable during her two years on the show. The experience JLo and Tyler have performing should help them feel more comfortable on the biggest stage in American television for musical talent.

I certainly will tune in and see how the new judges fit, but I’m not yet ready to declare the show must-watch TV again. That will have as much to do with the level of talent the three judges send through as it does with who the judges are. So Randy, Jennifer and Stephen, choose wisely, or else “Idol” really may be dead.

The week in review – Bud Selig, speeding tickets without radar, Idol winner’s debut

4 06 2010

Today, I’m going to try something different. There has been so much going on, I’m going to comment on a few of the news items that have popped up in the last few days.

1) Bud Selig refuses to overturn ump’s call that cost pitcher a perfect game.

For those of you who aren’t big sports fans, here’s the situation. With two outs in the ninth inning of a game Wednesday night between the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers, Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga was throwing a perfect game. That means no batter for the Indians had reached base by getting a hit, walk or error. The 27th and what should-have-been-final batter for the Indians was Jason Arnold. Arnold hit a grounder to the right side of the infield that was fielded by first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who tossed to Galarraga covering first base. At first glance, it appeared that the throw had easily beaten Arnold to the base, giving Galarraga a perfect game. But seconds later, first base umpire Jim Joyce emphatically signaled that Arnold was safe. Galarraga proceeded to retire the next batter, finishing the game with an unofficial 28-out perfect game, and an official one-hit shutout. Immediately after the game, Joyce admitted that he had blown the call and the game should have ended with Galarraga having a perfect game.

Some have called for Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to overturn Joyce’s call and officially give Galarraga a perfect game. As much as I feel Galarraga’s pain at being robbed of his place in history, I don’t think Selig should step in at this point and change the end of the game. Baseball does not have instant replay for those type of plays, so the umpire’s call is all they have to go on. For the commissioner to step in now would detract from the game. The game is based on thousands of human judgement calls. Balls and strikes. Safe or out. If baseball wants to change the rules to allow instant replay for similar plays in the future, then they should do that. But nothing can change how the game ended now.

I applaud Joyce for coming forward and apologizing. He has been a class act all the way. Galarraga also has been very classy in his handling. And while Selig’s decision may not be popular, I think he has done the best he could given the circumstances.

2) Supreme Court ruling allows Ohio officers to guess your speed.

 According to a recent Supreme Court ruling, police officers in Ohio can now use their own educated guesses to issue speeding tickets. Even more surprising, those guesses will hold up in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling allows an officer’s speed estimate only if the officer is trained by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy (or a similar academy) and has experience gauging speeds.

This seems ludicrous. In the past, officers could stop based on a guess, most courts required more proof than that if the ticket was challenged. Now, no radar reading or comparing speeds is necessary. Just a guess.

How can you argue with a guess? What if I have my cruise control set on 60 in a 55 mph zone, and a cop stops me for speeding? In the past, at least if you were given a ticket based on a radar gun reading, you felt like you probably deserved it. But now, a cop can stop anyone and all the courts can do is trust that he is accurate in his guess. And honest. What if, let’s just say for an example, I have a personal disagreement with a police officer. Then a week or so later, he sees me drive past him while he is on duty and he decides to pull me over and give me a speeding ticket. How could I possibly fight that?

I’m not saying all police officers are dishonest, untrustworthy individuals. But in any occupation, you will find people who are. So statistically speaking, it stands to reason that there are some officers who would hold a grudge and abuse their authority in such a manner as I described above.

Our courts are supposed to protect us, from each other but also from the government overstepping its bounds. Speed limits are in place to keep the roads safer. Lower speeds usually equate to safer roads. So letting police enforce those laws is a good thing. However, our system of justice is also based on evidence and due process. How can there be any due process when the only evidence is a subjective ruling made in the mind of an individual police officer? This is “evidence” that cannot be examined by a defense attorney or subjected to further tests.

This ruling seems to go against everything our country is supposed to stand for. I guess it’s just one more step down the slippery slope of eroding freedom.

3) Latest American Idol debuts to less than stellar numbers.

Last week, Lee DeWyze was named the 9th winner of  “American Idol,” much to the surprise of most of America. Ohio native Crystal Bowersox was the odds-on favorite to take the crown. However, the former paint salesman from Illinois apparently received more votes and is the current American Idol. But the glitter already is starting to fade off his crown.

According to numbers released Thursday by SoundScan, his debut single  (a cover of U2’s “Beautiful Day”) had only 95,000 downloads, good for 12th place on this week’s digital charts. Compare this with the numbers from the last two “Idol” winners.

Last year’s “American Idol” winner, Kris Allen, sold 134,00 digital downloads of the original song “No Boundaries” in its first week, entering at No.4. The 2008 champion, David Cook, moved 236,000 downloads and grabbed the No.1 digital spot with his single “The Time of My Life”, Billboard said. 

This dismal news follows the lowest-rated season finale for “Idol” since 2002. Nielsen data showed 24.2 million people tuned in for the finale. For the season, “Idol” lost 9 percent of its audience from 2009, but it remained the most-watched show on TV.

A few weeks ago, I said in my blog that the powers-that-be at “American Idol” should consider putting the show to sleep. This is just more evidence that the show is fading in its influence and its ability to create stars.

Still feeling “Lost”?

24 05 2010

Today, I actually had so many things I wanted to write about, that I had to chose. Guess that’s a good problem to have. So which option won out? Well if you read the headline, you already know.

Last night, the series finale of “Lost” aired. I was a latecomer to the hit show. I always wanted to watch it but once I missed the first season, I knew there was no way I was catching up on all the backstory. So I waited and bided my time. Then, once I knew this was going to be the final season, I started getting the first 5 seasons on DVD whenever I saw them on sale or at Half Price Books. Finally, last fall, Erin and I started watching the show. We immediately could see why it was such a hit. We fell in love with the characters and were pulled in by all the mysteries. What was the Smoke Monster? Why was Walt so important? Who were The Others? What does the Dharma Initiative have to do with the island and its past? Why does that scary music play all the time on this deserted island? And as the seasons went on, there were more questions, with few answers. Scores of new characters were introduced. I loved how the flashbacks always revealed something about a character’s past while also being tied in to whatever story there were telling on the island that week.

Along the way, there were parts of the story that I thought worked, and some that really didn’t. But through it all, I was holding out hope that the creators (Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse) knew what they were doing and that there would be a satisfying conclusion at some point. After watching last night’s finale, I’m not quite sure I got that payoff.

All along, the creators kept saying their show was really about the characters, not the island and its myriad of mysteries. The island was just a setting and a storytelling device to tell these rich stories about flawed characters and their attempts to find redemption. As the final season started, they were honest in saying that there would be answers to some of fans’ questions, but not all of them. In fact, some of the “answers” may not have even been answers. For example, in the episode two weeks ago that showed how Jacob and the Man in Black got to the island, most people who watched believed that Jacob’s brother, the Man In Black, became the Smoke Monster after going down the river and into the mysterious light. But I’m left wondering if that didn’t release the Smoke Monster who then took on the appearance of the Man In Black. We’ve seen the Smoke Monster take on the form of dead people all along. And we did see Jacob burying the Man in Black after the Smoke Monster was released from the cave. So it’s open to interpretation.

As is the ending of the show, apparently. To me, it was pretty straightforward. But looking on Facebook and Twitter, it still is confusing some people. OK, spoilers coming so if you haven’t watched the finale yet, stop reading.

Throughout Season 6, we’ve seen the story of the castaways continue to unfold on the island. But we’ve also been introduced to what has been called a Flashsideways world – a world where Oceanic Flight 815 from Sidney, Australia to LAX did not crash. Most people thought this was an alternate universe created by the exploding bomb in the Season 5 finale. The flashsideways stories have shown the characters in lives similar to what they had in the “real world” before they went to the island. But most of the stories had some important twists. The last few episodes had shown characters in the flashsideways world remember the “real world” and their time on the island. Usually some very emotional event that was similar to one that had happened on the island spurred the memory. In the last few minutes of the finale, we finally found out why. The flashsideways world was actually a purgatory of some kind where all (OK not really all. Where was Michael?) the Losties had gathered, waiting to go into the light. They were just waiting for all of them to remember their previous lives. Since time doesn’t matter in the afterlife, we don’t know exactly when these scenes are taking place, but it is somepoint in the future since all the Losties have now died, even the ones who escaped the island in the finale.

In the “real world” on the island, we see the final showdown between Jack, who has taken over for Jacob as the island’s protector, and the Smoke Monster who looks like John Locke. In the end, Jack is able to kill the Smoke Monster and ends up sacrificing himself for the island. With Jack gone, Hurley becomes the new protector of the island, with Ben as his No. 2. And some of the castaways actually survive long enough to fly off the island in the Ajira plane that the Oceanic Six used to return to the island. Kate, Claire, Miles, Sawyer, Richard and Lapidus soar away with Jack watching as he lies on his back, dying. And the show closes with a close up on his eye closing.

On one level, the finale did just what the creators wanted it to. The moments in the flashsideways world where the friends and lovers were reunited and remembered their life on the island were some of the most touching moments the show has ever produced. However, we are left with so many questions. Where did the island come from? Why did it jump through time? Why was Walt important? Why was there a pocket of electromagnetic energy in that cave? And on and on and on. It just feels like we got shortchanged. Would it really have been that hard to answer some of the nagging questions?

As a writer myself, I understand having a creative vision and being true to it. If it wasn’t their mission to answer all the questions, then from an artistic point of view, they should be true to their mission and vision. But from the point of view of a viewer, especially for people who have been watching for 6 years now, many are left wanting more. They want resolution to the 6 years of stories and some kind of payoff for the hundreds of hours they spent watching the show faithfully. But as longtime viewers of the show, they should have known to expect the unexpected.

The writers were in a no-win situation. Even if they had answered every single question, there would be people not happy with the finale. So they told the story that they wanted to tell, and decided to let the viewers decide for themselves if they felt that it fit or not.

So what did you think? Did the story of Jack’s test and redemption satisfy you? Were you left wanting more? Were you left wondering what the heck was going on?

‘Heroes’ can’t be rescued now

19 05 2010

After four uneven season, the curtain has closed on “Heroes.” When the show debuted in 2006, it was an instant hit. Fans were drawn to the stories of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities, and how they dealt with those powers. Creator Tim Kring envisioned the show as an ensemble, character-driven series that would show how ordinary people could save the world. But in the end, nothing could save “Heroes” from poor ratings and rising costs.

The first season saw an average of 14.3 million Americans watch the heroes as they tried to stop the mysterious Sylar from detonating a bomb in New York City. By the time Season 4 rolled around in Fall 2009, only 5 million tuned in for the season premiere. How did such a hit show fall so fast?

The answer is simple: poor storytelling. In Season 2, Kring and the writers seemed to lose their way. The season was criticized for a slower pace, lack of focus and a less engaging storyline. And it was only downhill from there. Storylines made little sense, characters would change course with no reasonable explanation, and the same plot elements were retread.

“Heroes” was basically a comic book in TV show’s clothing, so it tackled many of the same issues. Ordinary people making a difference. Outsiders trying to be accepted. Individuals trying to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. That, along with fast-paced storytelling and a healthy dose of mystery, made the show an instant success. If only the writers had continued to tap into that, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

There is talk of a TV movie or mini-series to tie up loose ends and try and give some closure to the series. At this point, I think it may be best to let dead dogs lie. Because that’s what “Heroes” is – dead. It has been dead for 3 seasons, and everyone except the show’s creators seemed to know it.

I loved the show when it started. As a longtime comic book fan, I loved the superhero elements. But as the show continued to run itself into the ground, I had a hard time watching it. Each season I would tune in, hopeful that the writers had found some way to right the ship. And while there may have been momentary glimpses of the greatness that was Season 1, the show never regained its footing. Season 4 was almost painful to watch at times as it limped to its death.

So it is with a heavy heart, but also a sense of relief, that I bid adieu to the once-great “Heroes.” Let us watch Season 1 on DVD and remember all the good times we had with “Heroes.” We can just pretend the other seasons never happened. Maya? Maya who?

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