Thursday, October 8, 2009


Back in 2007, before one of the stupidest re-brandings in all of television history, the appropriately-named Sci Fi Channel aired Tin Man, a 6-hour miniseries directed by Nick Willing. The first night of the dark, modern retelling of The Wizard of Oz starring Zooey Deschanel and Alan Cumming became the most-watched telecast in the network’s history, and overall the show was the top rated cable miniseries for the year. Now, the ridiculously renamed Syfy has announced that Willing’s “re-imagined spin” on Alice in Wonderland will premiere December 6th, just three short months before Tim Burton’s version hits movie theaters. The 4-hour Alice will air over two nights and star Caterina Scorsone as Alice, Kathy Bates as the Queen of Hearts, Tim Curry as Dodo, and Matt Frewer as the White Knight. Syfy’s press release describes the plot as “…the modern-day story of Alice Hamilton, a fiercely independent twenty-something who suddenly finds herself on the other side of a looking glass. She is a stranger in an outlandish city of twisted towers and casinos built out of playing cards, all under the rule of a deliciously devilish Queen who's not very happy about Alice's arrival.”

I quite enjoyed Tin Man, though that had more to do with my undying love for Zooey Deschanel and Alan Cumming than anything else. I also think I enjoyed the idea of it more than the actual execution – the plot was a rather ingenious retelling of the Dorothy/Oz mythos, but it seemed to get a little too big for itself and started to fall apart about halfway through. Hopefully, the shorter running time of Alice will help avoid that. Additionally, Willing is serving as both writer and director this time, whereas he only directed Tin Man and the writing duties were split between three different people. But check out this promo and see for yourself whether your appetite is whetted:

Yeah… I’m pretty sure I’ll be tuning in to this one – because if anything, it looks like Kathy Bates is bringing a little of Misery’s Annie Wilkes to the table, and who wouldn’t love to see that?

Coincidentally, this isn’t Willing’s first go at Lewis Carroll’s world – he also directed the 1999 made-for-TV version starring Whoopi Goldberg, Miranda Richardson, and Martin Short.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Universal Networks International and independent studio E1 Entertainment have signed a deal to produce Haven, a 13-part TV series based on the Stephen King novella The Colorado Kid. The pilot was written by Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn, who will also serve as executive producers and who worked on a few episodes of another King TV series, The Dead Zone.

But the most interesting thing about this article from The Hollywood Reporter is the summary of the supposed plot: “The drama will portray a small Maine town where the cursed attempt to lead normal lives as FBI agent Audrey Parker investigates supernatural forces that threaten to unravel the many mysteries of Haven.”

It’s interesting because I’ve read The Colorado Kid, and that is no where near the plot of The Colorado Kid.

King wrote the book for Hard Case Crime, a publishing imprint that every month produces either a reprint of a classic pulp fiction noir novel or a new book by a current author writing in the pulp fiction noir style. King was probably brought on solely for name recognition, as the novel really doesn’t adhere to typical noir style. Its story is told by two old newspaper editors who are testing a young intern’s deductive mettle by recounting the case of an unidentified man found dead, slumped against a garbage can. But rather than attempting to solve the mystery, the narrative becomes a meditation on the nature of mystery itself, and the book never reaches any real conclusion. While King definitely knows how to tell a story, to me the whole thing felt more than a little masturbatory – as if he was saying, “Let me tell you my thoughts on crime fiction” rather than actually, you know, writing some crime fiction.

Frankly, I would have rather read about FBI agents investigating supernatural forces.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Mitchell Hurwitz and James Vallely, the creator and co-executive producer of Arrested Development, are said to finally be working on the screenplay for the much-anticipated movie version of their short-lived but critically-praised sitcom. Hurwitz is also attached to direct and all of the main actors have at least promised to commit, though scheduling will still need to be sorted out.

I know Development fans have been holding their breath for this movie for almost four years now and this bit of news may give them hope that this film could actually, finally be made. I’ve been slowly making my way through the show for a while now (having missed the boat during its original run), and while I do think it’s one of the best comedies to have ever aired on network TV, part of me still wonders… is a movie absolutely necessary? Maybe a made-for-TV event would be nice, but a feature-length big-screen film? Does the Bluth family really deserve that treatment, or are fans just eager to get any version of them back that they can? Everyone involved – writers, producers, actors, fans – seems genuinely interested in only doing a movie if it can be done right… but has anyone seriously considered that it may just not need to be done at all? Or is that just blasphemy?

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The first cancellation of the fall season was confirmed on Friday: The CW announced it was pulling The Beautiful Life -- Ashton Kutcher’s second attempt at producing a scripted series – after airing only two episodes. The show’s last outing on Wednesday night only garnered about one million viewers, but worse yet, lost over 60% of its lead-in audience from America’s Next Top Model.

I do try to catch as many new programs as possible during the fall season, unless I find myself having absolutely zero interest in the show. The Beautiful Life was one of those shows. Maybe it’s because I think Mischa Barton has all the personality of a tube of lip gloss. Or maybe it’s because even during the initial press junkets for the show, it never seemed to distinguish itself from the slew of the other “pretty people with problems” dramas out there. At any rate they finished filming four more episodes before the cancellation was announced, but unless The CW suddenly has a desperate need to fill a timeslot, I doubt they’ll ever see the light of day.

Encore showings of the previous night’s Melrose Place will run in The Beautiful Life's place. By comparison, Melrose drew 1.45 million viewers last Tuesday and only lost 33% of 90210’s lead-in.

Friday, September 25, 2009


The Hollywood Reporter ran this story last Wednesday which revealed that Simon Cowell’s new deal with Fox would not only keep him as a judge on American Idol through the 2011-12 season, but also allow him to bring the format of his hit UK show, The X Factor, to the States. The deal hasn’t been finalized and could potentially fall through, but one might speculate that Fox has either made a conscious decision to begin phasing out American Idol, or truly didn’t realize that bringing The X Factor to the US – something that had been specifically prevented in Cowell’s previous deals – could mean the death of their ratings juggernaut for the past seven years. The X Factor provides fresh solutions for some of the complaints that the steadily-declining Idol audience has been griping about, because Simon Cowell specifically wanted The X Factor to be a far better show than Idol would ever hope to be.

Back in 2001, Cowell joined the judges panel on a new UK show called Pop Idol, created by talent manager Simon Fuller. The show became an international phenomenon, spawning not only American Idol but over 100 other versions in different countries, each with their own version of a blunt and snarky Cowell-like judge. But after the second series of Pop Idol in 2003 disappointed in the ratings and produced no real star, its network, ITV, decided to put it on “indefinite hiatus” and allow Cowell to launch his own show, which he would own the rights to. Thus, The X Factor was born. Similarities between the two programs would cause Fuller to sue Cowell in 2005 (which was later settled out of court), but Cowell did make three key changes to Pop Idol’s format which proved to be exactly what UK audiences were looking for, and could end up doing the same over here:

No age limits and the inclusion of group acts: The minimum age to audition for The X Factor is 16, but unlike Idol, there’s no maximum age restriction. This certainly provides for more entertainment during the audition rounds, as there’s inevitably a grandmother or two who believe they can be the next Leona Lewis, but it also opens the door for amazing talent that would’ve been shut out otherwise -- like Niki Evans, who was 35 when she appeared on series four:

Only one “older” contestant has ever won in the finals, but their inclusion may provide a greater area of interest for US viewers who have tired of watching only beautiful young 20-somethings battle it out on Idol year after year.

The X Factor also allows group acts to compete, which also expands the appeal for the audience. However, if the show makes it to the US it will be interesting to see if this category is changed to include what we’d consider “real” bands, as the boy-band/girl-group types that still chart in the UK have more or less fallen out of favor on this side of the pond.

The judges have slightly more to do and the public slightly less: Each contestant on The X Factor falls into one of four categories: Boys, Girls, Over 25s, and Groups. After the “Boot Camp” section of the show narrows the field of contenders down to 20, each judge is assigned one of the categories which they will “mentor” throughout the rest of the show. Idol usually lets the public vote at this point and determine the final 12, but on The X Factor the five remaining in each group are brought to their respective “Judge’s House” where they perform one final audition before two more of them each are eliminated. That process creates the top 12 who’ll perform for the audience’s votes. And even in the results show each week (until they reach the final five), it’s only the bottom two vote-getters that are revealed, and it’s left to the judges to decide who goes home. It’s not unless the judges end up tying that they’ll turn to the public vote to determine who’s safe. This ultimately creates a much stronger group of finalists as it tends to weed out the “What Are These People Thinking?” contestants -- which anyone who had to suffer through Sanjaya Malakar in season 6 of Idol will agree is a very good thing.

Bigger productions mean more entertainment: The X Factor is, by name, searching for talent with that extra little something that puts them over the edge and propels them into superstardom. This means the performances during the live shows typically involve a little more than just standing at a mic and singing to the audience; contestants need to prove that they can handle a full-fledged entertainment performance. Of course, in the uber-glossy world of UK pop that can sometimes lead to productions like this one from brother-and-sister duo Same Difference during series four (performance starts at 1:46, and yes, it’s totally worth it):

(Side note: The next time Cowell makes some quip on Idol about a “carnival ship singer” or a “cheesy cabaret performance”, remember that Same Difference was in his category this year, meaning he approved every single atrocity that occurred on that stage.)

But even when the performance doesn’t include dancing toy dolls or shiny helium balloons, it still feels bigger and more satisfying than what Idol typically provides. Witness this incredible version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Ruth Lorenzo in series five, which delivers all the visual intensity of a finale-night Idol performance when it’s only week five:

(Her voice doesn’t hurt things either.)

Ultimately, if The X Factor does make it to the US, Fox is going to face some rather challenging scheduling issues. It’s hard to believe that Cowell would allow it to be aired during the summer, since it would be in direct competition with America’s Got Talent, where he serves as executive producer. Fox probably wouldn’t want it there either, because it could split its target audience with So You Think You Can Dance? But if The X Factor ends up airing either before American Idol in the fall -- or worse yet, alongside it during the winter/spring – audiences may wind up feeling more contented by Cowell’s “tweaked-just-enough” format than they have been by the past few seasons of Idol. Or they could get burnt out on the reality talent show genre altogether. Either way, Cowell seems to come out on top: if both shows go bust, he’s already made his fortune. That’s a helluva place to be when you need to renegotiate your contract, and Fox may have ended up putting the writing on the wall for their biggest stake in the Nielsens.