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Monday, Nov 17, 2014
How did Doctor Who go from grasping at straws to having one of the best seasons in years? Amazingly, in just two simple steps.

There are a lot of people who like Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. There are a lot of people that will (rightly) point to episodes like “The Girl Who Waited” and excellent new characters like the Silence to help really drive the point home that following the monumental popularity and goodwill that David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor generated, Matt Smith’s run in the big blue police box was just as good as his predecessor.


Except those people would be wrong.


While there will be some great episodes associated with the 11th Doctor—especially when you factor in the Series Six arc of companions Amy & Rory dealing with their pregnancy amidst all of their incredible time adventures—it was by the time the show reached Series Seven that it was obvious that showrunner and Sherlock scribe Steven Moffat was running low on ideas, episodes like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and “The Angels Take Manhattan” really pushing the credulity of a show that already dealt with monsters, time paradoxes, and all sorts of otherworldly wackiness. Things seemed to be taking a turn once Jenna Coleman was brought on as Clara, the quirky, fast-talking girl that almost-flirted with the Doctor and seemed to match him on a basis of pure witticisms. When we first met her in 2012’s “The Snowmen”, we find out she leads the strange double-life of being a barmaid as well as a governess, and, most interestingly, was the same girl that was featured in the pivotal episode “Asylum of the Daleks”. Mysteries abound for this sassy new companion.


However, as she spent more time with Matt Smith, that initial pep of energy that she gave us withered away, as her matching Smith on a quirk-for-quirk basis proved to more grating than it was endearing. Although fans were thrown a bone with the wonderful 50th anniversary special, during which Clara had a mercifully brief role, by the time we reached the Neil Gaiman-penned “Nightmare in Silver”, Clara was commanding an army of reluctant soldiers and still offering wry faces and goofy grins even as the soldiers she was leading were dying all around her. It was ill-fitting for the character, and basically painted her as someone made of all quirks and zero emotion. Even with Matt Smith’s halfway-decent send off, there was still a sense of lacking to his final run in he TARDIS, and while some of it could be attributed to tired scripts, having a companion that was simply not interesting on any notable dramatic level is what ultimately marred the last of Smith’s tenure.


Thus, when Peter Capaldi was announced as the 12th Doctor, it was noted how his character would be unlikable at first, but the audience would grow to love him. True Whovians knew this was a bad omen, as the last time they tried that, it was when Colin Baker was the Sixth Doctor, and the producers at the time wanted to make him an absolute jerk that slowly worms his way into the audience’s heart with his gradual reveal of honest emotions. Instead, Colin Baker’s incarnation just came off as a jerk ... and little else. He was saved by a few decent scripts (see: The Trail of a Time Lord), but his character went down as one of the more contentious Time Lords in the canon, and not in the lovable and curmudgeonly way that Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker had done so well.


Thus, “Deep Breath”, Capaldi’s first episode, was a bit of a strange one to start of Series Eight with: he’s making passes at a female dinosaur, being somewhat dazed throughout the episode as he’s finding the limits of his new body (and the audience is getting used to his accent)—it made for a strange stew. However, despite his non-violent victory over the strange Victorian androids, what was most interesting about the episode is how the Doctor really pushed Clara into the action without a safety net, at one point locking her in a room where she was clearly in mortal danger. It was an odd move, but in truth, this leads to one of the two reasons why Series Eight has been one of the most out-and-out spectacular since the surprisingly satisfying Donna Noble-starring Series Four (with Tennant and Catherine Tate) ...


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Monday, Nov 10, 2014
Talking back to your TV isn't a metaphor anymore, a fact that's posing a lot of problems.

It was in 1995 that the world’s first, official “interactive” film was produced and screened. Titled Mr. Payback, the film starred Billy Warlock, and was made for showing in specially-equipped theaters where joysticks had been attached to the seats.


The movie was a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure for the big screen. While watching the film, audience members were given a choice about what action the hero should take. Via their personal joysticks, they could vote about what they wanted to see. They could also “vote” as many times as they wanted but were always at risk of being “outvoted” by those sitting around them. What happened on screen was strictly dictated by majority rule.


Tagged as: fandom
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Monday, Nov 3, 2014
by Tish Wells / McClatchy Washington Bureau (MCT)
The 1970s have become trendy again on TV.

In BBC America’s six-episode series The Game (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET), the gray days of the Cold War, the fear of possible nuclear elimination by the Soviet Union is alive and well in the UK, and MI-5, the domestic counter-intelligence agency, is tasked with preventing it.


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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
When broadcast networks rapidly cancel new shows, it undermines their own efforts to reach out to audiences and make quality programming.

At one time the list of shows that had been cancelled by the broadcast networks after just one primetime airing was a very short—not to mention, very dubious—list. For many, many years, it was a list that consisted of 1969’s Turn On (a bawdy Laugh In-like sketch series on ABC) and 1979’s Co-Ed Fever (a rowdy sitcom from CBS). But as the networks have faced far greater competition from newer networks (like FOX), from cable and, now, from services like Netflix, this “one-and-done” list has begun to multiply rapidly.


Since the early 1990’s we’ve added: CBS’s South of Sunset in 1993, Public Morals in 1996, Lawless in 1997, Dot Comedy in 2000, The Will in 2005, Emily’s Reasons Why Not in 2006, and QuarterLife in 2008, among others.


Meanwhile, numerous shows these days get the ax after just one or two airings. For example, in 2007, CBS pulled Viva Laughlin after just two episodes.


Considering the continuing assault on network viewership numbers by so many new outside factors, and our own collective, rapidly diminishing attention spans, it doesn’t seem like this list is going to stop or slow down anytime soon.


So far this fall season—as of this writing, at least—the big four networks haven’t killed off any of their news series. (Though, of course, not all of the new series have premiered yet.)


More cancellations are coming. Often, for the networks, these fast cancellations are the height of hypocrisy. As they gear up for the new fall season, the nets boast endlessly in their ads of the Stunning Quality of this new series or that new series only to, two or three weeks later, unceremoniously yank it from the line-up as if to say, “You’re right. This was a complete piece of crap. What were we thinking?”


It’s a completely unsentimental business these days, vastly different from how the (then) big (then) three networks used to operate. 


Case in point: the mid-‘60s NBC series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E, a spin-off of the far better known The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Though the series did well in the ratings when it debuted on September 13, 1966, its viewing numbers soon steadily declined. By November, the series was ranking a distant third in its timeslot. The show ended the season ranking 69th, a then low, low number when only 75 or so shows were on then on the air. But, the point is, it did end the season. Despite its ever-decreasing numbers, NBC left it on the air until April of 1967, when it had completed its run of 29 original episodes. Such patience and indulgence now, shown by the networks, in regard to a show getting such low Nielsens, is practically unheard of. 


In more recent years, the networks have only been showing patience for lower-rated programs if they have great demographics and/or overwhelming critical acclaim. NBC made great use of this tactic in the ‘80s when they stuck with shows like Hills Street Blues and Cheers until public attention matched their critical response. It was a patience the Peacock Network also employed—eventually to amazing success—with the debut of Seinfeld.


Would such nurturing be allowed today?


To some extent, FOX has hung with The Mindy Project despite its middling ratings and NBC showed great faith in Community until they decided to finally give up the ghost on that one.


Still, the act of quick cancellation by the networks is becoming more and more the norm. With this practice, the networks are no doubt trying to save face, cut their losses and, probably, show how “with it” they are—able to reverse and try a new track as quick and canny as any of their cable competitors.


But increasingly, quick cancellations are undermining the networks’s own search for viewers.  With so many new series biting the dust so soon after they debut, it seems to ward off viewers’s willingness to try something new. This seems especially true in regard to many of the hour-long dramas now making it onto the air. The overwhelming majority of them these days are deeply serialized in nature and demand an investment from the viewer from episode one (Gotham, anyone?).


We’ve all faced the sheer soul-crushing disappointment of having our favorite show killed off. What is even worse, however, is to see a new show we have just made time for, incorporated into our viewing, and gotten invested in have the rug swept out from under it.


While even in the world of TV it might be better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, it’s still frustrating to commit to a new series only to see it die a premature death after only two or three episodes. But that’s what you risk these days with so many quick cancellations, that feeling of “Why’d I even bother?”


Therefore:  Am I the only viewer that doesn’t want to get involved until I know “my show” is going to be around for a while?


With the staggering glut of new shows that are now starting every fall, (as we now not only have the four networks to contend with but a plethora of basic- and pay-cable series vying for our viewing) choosing to become attached or addicted to a new series is a dicier undertaking than ever before. Everything it seems has a much greater chance of ending rather than sticking around.  So, again, why bother?


It seems that, considering the new world that networks have found themselves in, it behooves them to actually stand by their product and allow it to be fully sampled before too many potential viewers shy away from it from the get-go (or even before the “get-go”). It will only be by giving their series, and thereby their viewers, a chance, that the networks can not only build an audience but also survive.


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Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014
House of Cards might be gearing up for its third season, but the very first episode of the series is the most telling indication of how Netflix is helping television break new ground.

Among the first of Nexflix’s now hefty portfolio of original series, House of Cards has a lot that sets it apart from the traditional TV shows that we’re used to watching. Produced and distributed uniquely for online viewers, the series seems to relish in the freedom Netflix has provided it just as much as its fans savor the cold, calculating evil that is Frank Underwood. While many are eagerly looking forward to the release of the third season, I’ve also been looking back on the very first episode, trying to parse through what made this show feel so unique from the very start.


Unlike the vast majority of television programs, House of Cards never had a pilot phase, and consequentially has no “pilot” in the usual sense of the term. Pilot episodes are typically a means of proving a concept’s viability before the network makes a long-term commitment, but Netflix signed on for 26 episodes before a single scene was filmed. Chapter One is therefore precisely that: the first installment of a much longer narrative, and hardly a self-contained story.


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