Friday, May 20, 2016

CBS Upfronts 2016-17

cbslogo200Well hopefully this will post properly without devestating the FOX upfronts post or destroying the multiverse.

CBS is the most viewed TV network in the United States, although there are those who say that that doesn’t matter since their appeal to the lower part of the 18-49 demographic isn’t great. Unlike last year, when CBS introduced Supergirl to appeal to that part of the demographic (since superheroes and comic book based shows are doing well on The CW), the network doesn’t really seem to be making a huge effort to latch on to the Millennials. In fact they’ve even exiled last year’s “great young hope” to The CW. Yes, Supergirl, which did decent but not spectacular ratings number has gone to play with The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow at The CW (and in Vancouver). Also missing but not yet dead is Limitless which CBS is hoping to relocate to some other network. Coincidentally I liked both of these shows. Oh well.

Angel From Hell, CSI: Cyber, The Good Wife, Mike & Molly, Person Of Interest, Rush Hour

2 Broke Girls, 48 Hours, 60 Minutes, The Amazing Race, The Big Bang Theory, Blue Bloods, Code Black, Criminal Minds, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Elementary, Hawaii Five-0, Life In Pieces, Madam Secretary, Mom, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, The Odd Couple, Scorpion, Survivor, Thursday Night Football, Undercover Boss

New Shows
Bull, Doubt, The Great Indoors, Kevin Can Wait, MacGyver, Man With A Plan, Pure Genius, Training Day

Fall Schedule By Day (New Series in Caps)

8-8:30 p.m. The Big Bang Theory (until mid-October) KEVIN CAN WAIT
8:30-9 p.m. KEVIN CAN WAIT (until mid-October) MAN WITH A PLAN
9-9:30 p.m. 2 Broke Girls (new day and time)
9:30-10 p.m. The Odd Couple (new day and time)
10-11 p.m. Scorpion (new time)

8-9 p.m. NCIS
9-10 p.m. BULL
10-11 p.m. NCIS: New Orleans

8-9 p.m. Survivor
9-10 p.m. Criminal Minds
10-11 p.m. Code Black

Thursday (Starting October 27)
8-8:30 p.m. The Big Bang Theory
9-9:30 p.m. Mom
9:30-10 p.m. Life In Pieces
10-11 p.m. PURE GENIUS

8-9 p.m. MACGYVER
9-10 p.m. Hawaii Five 0
10-11 p.m. Blue Bloods

7-8 p.m. 60 Minutes
8-9 p.m. NCIS: Los Angeles (new day and time)
9-10 p.m. Madam Secretary (new time)
10-11 p.m. Elementary

Kevin Can Wait stars Kevin James as a newly retired NYPD Sergeant (named Kevin)who has big plans for his retirement including chilling with his family and having epic adventures with his friends and fellow retirees (like combining go karts and paintball). The problem is that Kevin’s wife Donna (Erinn Hayes) has withheld certain key information from him, meaning that the challenges he’s going to have to face at home are going to be greater than those he faced on the job (like keeping himself from killing his eldest daughter’s fiance).

Man With A Plan marks Matt LeBlanc’s return to American broadcast network TV. He plays Adam, a contractor who decides to become a stay at home dad while his wife Andi (Jessica Chaffin) goes back to work. He doesn’t know what he’s in for. He – and his kids – expects that he can get away with being “daddy fun times” but he soon discovers that in their own ways his kids are maniacs. He needs to learn the tricks of getting control of his brood from other parents who’ve been there.

Bull is Dr. Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly) is one of the top jury consultants in the country. He and his team use psychological analysis, intuition and high tech data to learn what makes lawyers, witnesses, and especially jurors tick. Weatherly’s character is based on Dr. Phil McGraw who, before he became a TV psychologist, was the founder of one of the top trial consulting firms ever. McGraw is one of the show’s executive producers, along with Steven Spielberg.

In The Great Indoors, Kevin McHale plays Jack a renowned outdoor adventure writer who suddenly finds himself supervising a collection of millennial online journalists when Roland (Stephen Fry), the founder of the magazine he works for, decides to take the magazine “all-digital.”  Complicating matters even more is the fact that he report has to report to Roland’s daughter Brooke (Susannah Fielding). If Jack can manage to decipher his co-workers he might be able to get them to realize that the outside world something more that an image on the screen.

Pure Genius is a medical drama with a focus on the marriage of high technology and medicine. Young Silicon Valley tech billionaire James Bell (Augustus Pew) has built Bunker Hill Hospital to revolutionize health care and take on the rarest and most challenging medical mysteries, all free of charge. Bell persuade Dr. Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney), a maverick neurosurgeon who believes medicine is a human rather than a technological endeavour, to be the hospital’s chief of staff. Bell has assembled a group of trailblazing young doctors to pursue his goals.

MacGyver is a re-imagining of the 1980’s series starring Lucas Till as Angus “Mac” MacGyver who uses his vast scientific knowledge and talent for improvisational problem solving to save lives while on missions for a clandestine organization that he created within the US government. Among those working with him is Lincoln (George Eads) a maverick former CIA agent.

Debuting at mid-season, Training Day is a sequel to the movie of the same name. Bill Paxton plays morally ambiguous Detective Frank Rourke who heads up the LAPD’s Special Investigation Section. Frank has built a team that is devoted to him, but his tendency to operate in the grey areas has led Deputy Chief Joy Lockhart (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) to assign untarnished rookie Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell) as Frank’s new trainee so that he can report on Frank and the SIS’s methods. However as Frank introduces Justin to the ways of the streets they form an uneasy alliance that could change both of them.

Doubt is another series debuting at mid-season. Sadie Ellis (Katherine Heigl) is a brilliant attorney with a boutique law firm who falls in love with her client Bill Brennan (Steven Pasquale), an altruistic pediatric surgeon accused of the murder of his girlfriend 24 years before. Sadie conceals her feelings towards Bill from everyone including her best friend and colleague Albert Cobb (Dule Hill) who thingks he knows everything about her. Among the other lawyers at the firm are its revered founder Isaiah Roth (Elliott Gould) and Cameron Wirth, a transgender Ivy League graduate who fights passionately for her clients (Lavern Cox, who plays Cameron, is the frst transgender performer to play a transgender character as a series regular in a broadcast network series).

I am not very enthusiastic about most of the new CBS lineup. And it’s not just because my favourite show, The Amazing Race, is being held for mid-season (although that’s part of it). The new comedy series really don’t inspire much confidence from me. Certainly Kevin Can Wait and Man With A Plan seem like rehashes of concepts we have seen so many times before just with “big names.” The don’t inspire me and I can’t help but feeling that by the end of the 2016-17 season (if not before) CBS will regret sending Supergirl off to The CW (and keeping Limitless in limbo). The Great Indoors might be okay; on the other hand it might turn into just another workplace comedy, a type that CBS frankly doesn’t do well. I’m betting (metaphorically speaking) on the latter.

MacGyver follows a trend that I mentioned in the FOX post, reviving a show that had a perfectly good send-off for no other reason than name recognition. I haven’t seen the trailer for the series (CBS has region-blocked their trailers this year, and while I was able to track down trailers for some of he network’s shows, I didn’try to get them all) so I can’t comment on what they’re putting on the screen, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like a good idea.

Bull has a potentially interesting concept, a popular lead actor in Michael Weatherly and gives it an excellent time slot between two big CBS powerhouses (with ties to Weatherly) in NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans I can see this show doing well in the ratings while being totally ignored by the critics because it isn’t exciting or controversial. As for Pure Genius, the concept sounds a bit out there; a gimmicky medical show that isn’t the background for romantic entanglements like Grey’s Anatomy, never know what happens next cases like Code Black, and whatever it was they’re doing on Chicago Medical (a show I confess I don’t watch). Of course, since it was one of the trailers that I wasn’t able to see, it could be the greatest medical show ever, but I’m getting more of a feel of Chicago Hope than ER. Mid-season series Doubt leaves me cold. There are elements like the presence of Lavern Cox, and the description of her character’s passion that could be interesting, but given that the description gives so much attention to the relationship between the characters played by Katherine Heigl and Stephen Pasquale sends up red flags for me. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be the next Good Wife and I’m worried that the main plot line could be the least interesting thing in this show.

The show that sounds like it could be the next big thing for CBS could be the Training Day. If the network makes this show as harsh and gritty as the movie that it was based on I think there are intriguing directions that it could go in. It could very well be something of a critical darling if it’s done right, and if it can capture an audience. The midseason start doesn’t necessarily bode well for the latter.

Looking at the completed CBS lineup I can’t help feeling disappointed. CBS has tended to produce a workman-like if not necessarily spectacularly good or noteworthy list of shows that mesh together well and leave the network with hard choices when the end of the season comes around. This lineup doesn’t feel like that; it feels like there are more big problems lying in wait than lasting successes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Well That Was Embarassing

So last night I posted my evaluation of the new FOX network shows to go along with my NBC evaluation. I THOUGHT! What actually happened was that my NBC evaluation vanished.
I think I know what happened. When I started writing the FOX material I decided to use the NBC post as a template. Using Open Writer I opened the posted NBC material, changed the title, removed all of the text that I didn’t want and then wrote in the new material. Simple. I’ve done it before although maybe not with Live Writer, the Microsoft product that Open Writer is a continuation of.

What I think happened is that when I posted the draft FOX article to Blogger to do a final edit, either OpenWriter or Blogger thought I was posting a revision of the NBC post rather than a new post. And since I was kind of tired last night I didn’t pick up on the warning signs that I wasn’t posting something new, like the little orange box saying "Update" instead of "Publish".

I’ll rewrite the NBC article later in the week and make sure it goes up as a new post. Now you’ll excuse me, I have to go spread some sheep manure.

Monday, May 16, 2016

FOX Upfronts 2016-17

FOX logo(Writer’s Note: I’m falling behind on doing these upfront reports. A big part of it is that I seem to have limited time to do the actual writing during the daytime – it’s may and among other things I garden – which means that I write when I’m able to find time. To catch up I’m probably going to hold off on the ABC shows until CBS and The CW do their announcements. Which in some ways is a bit of a pity because ABC actually has some shows I’m quite interested in this year.)

Fox is traditionally the second network to present its line-up for the new season. They also have a different programming philosophy. Unlike NBC they have carefully laid out plans of when midseason shows will appear and plan to use hiatuses to air all of the shows that they pick up for the year. Thus, FOX will have the same number of new series debuting in the Fall as NBC (but because they don’t offer nighttime football they have one extra night to play with) but probably more new series overall.

FOX really seems to be pushing two things with their new shows: remakes of older shows (24 Legacy, Prison Break) and movies (Lethal Weapon, The Exorcist), and big name stars (Oscar winners Geena Davis, Richard Dreyfuss and Helen Hunt, and Oscar nominee Queen Latifah

American Idol, Bordertown, Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life, Grandfathered, The Grinder, Minority Report, Second Chance

Bob’s Burgers, Bones, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Empire, Family Guy, Gotham, Hell’s Kitchen, The Last Man On Earth, Lucifer, New Girl, Rosewood, Scream Queens, Sleepy Hollow, The Simpsons 

New Shows
24: Legacy, A.P.B., The Exorcist, Lethal Weapon, Making History, The Mick, Pitch, Shots Fired, Son of Zorn, Star, Prison Break

Fall Schedule By Day (New Series in Caps)

8-9 p.m. Gotham / 24 LEGACY / Gotham
9-10 p.m. Lucifer / A.P.B. / Lucifer

8-8:30 p.m. Brooklyn Nine-Nine / New Girl/ Brooklyn Nine-Nine
8:30-9 p.m. New Girl / THE MICK
9-10 p.m. Scream Queens / KICKING AND SCREAMING / PITCH

9-10 p.m. Empire / STAR / Empire

8-9 p.m. Rosewood (new day and time)
9-10 p.m. Bones (new time) / PRISON BREAK

8-9 p.m. Hell’s Kitchen / Master Chef Junior
9-10 p.m. THE EXORCIST / Sleepy Hollow

7-7:30 p.m. NFL On Fox
7:30-8 p.m. The OT / Bob’s Burgers
8-8:30 p.m. The Simpsons
9-9:30 p.m. Family Guy
9:30-10 p.m. Last Man on Earth

24: Legacy is 24 without Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland has a show on ABC but is serving as an Executive Producer on this version of the show). Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins) is an ex-Army Ranger who has returned to America from a mission for a revived CTU. Trouble follows him and he has to reach out to former CTU head Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto) to help him prevent what might be the biggest terrorist attack on US soil.

A.P.B.: When a the mentor and best friend of tech billionaire Gideon Reeves (Justin Kirk) is murdered and the precinct where the killing happened is too hit by budget cuts to investigate the crime, he effectively buys the precinct. Equipping the precinct with the latest in high-tech gadgetry, including a phone app called A.P.B., Reeves sets out to show what can be done with a privatized police force.

In The Exorcist Geena Davis plays Angela Rance, a woman who is convinced that her home is housing a demon since her eldest daughter returned home from college. Alonso Herrera plays Father Tomas, her parish priest to whom she turns for help, and Ben Daniels is Father Marcus, the priest to whom he turns for help.

Lethal Weapon is based on the movies of the same name, starring Damon Wayans as Roger Murtagh and Clayne Crawford as Martin Riggs. I think that’s all that really needs to be said.

The premise of the new comedy Making History is that a nerdy college science professor (Adam Pally) develops a time machine (in a large gym bag) that allows them to travel back in time to 1775. Unfortuntely his presence there (where he’s dating Paul Revere’s daughter) seems to be interfering with the events leading to the American Revolution. In order to set things right, he gets one of the university’s history professors (Yassir Lester) to help set things right. Hilarity – and ham – ensues, (the latter part of that is a sample of what the writers find funny in this).

In The Mick, Kaitlin Olson plays Mackenzie, known as “Mickey.” She’s a two bit hustler who actively avoids responsibility. She suddenly finds herself forced to take responsibility when her estranged sister and billionaire brother-in-law flee the country to avoid going to prison for tax evasion. They leave Mickey with their three kids. Motherhood was never in her plans but she has to transform these spoiled rich kids into  well-adjusted, hard working, decent members of society. Which is hard since she herself has never been any of these things.

In Pitch Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) is suddenly propelled into the spotlight when the San Diego Padres sign her as the first woman to play major league baseball. to make a success of her career she not only has to perform but she has to win over her new team mates, many of whom don’t want to see a woman in professional baseball. She has her supporters, including catcher Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and her agent Amelia Slater (Ali Larter).

Shots Fired takes a look at one of the major issues of our times. When a white college student is shot to death by an apparently racist black police officer, a pair of Justice Department investigators are sent to a small North Carolina town. What Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) and Preston Terry (Stephan James), both of whom are African-American, discover is the neglected murder of a Black teen, and tensions that are on the verge of igniting. They begin to suspect a cover-up that may go as high as the state’s governor played by Helen Hunt.

Son of Zorn may be the ultimate fish-out-of-water comedy. Zorn (voiced by Jason Sudekis) comes from an island in the South Pacific where everyone is an animated character. He comes to Orange County, California to reconnect with his ex-wife Edie and estranged teenage son Alangulon, who are flesh and blood (Cheryl Hines and Johnny Pemberton respectively). Complicating matters is that Zorn is not only an animated character, he’s also a barbarian warrior. Nevertheless, to reconnect with his son he’s willing to settle down rent an apartment and get a job in the “exciting field of industrial soap sales.”

Star is a new series from the creator of Empire, Lee Daniels. Like Empire it is set in the music industry but is about young artists looking for their big break. Star (Jude Demorest), her sister Simone (Brittany O’Grady), and “Instagram bestie” Alexandra (Ryan Destiny) journey to Atlanta to make it in the music industry as a girl group. They are taken under the wing of beauty salon owner Carlotta (Queen Latifah), who had her own dreams of stardom shattered. She doesn’t approve of the girls’ desire to make it in the music industry, but she’ll stand by them.

Prison Break is back again as a limited series with original stars Wentworth Miller and Domenic Purcell (fresh off their time on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash). When Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callis) discovers that Michael Scofield might still be alive she enlists the help of his brother Lincoln Burrows and several of the Fox River Prison escapees to rescue him from a prison break in another country.

In my opinion, based on watching the trailers tht FOX has put online, there seem to be a few good things in the network’s new season line-up along with some shows that I don’t really understand the need for. And then there are some shows that I can’t understand why anyone would want to watch. Those will probably be big hits.

Does anyone really need to see new versions of Lethal Weapon or The Exorcist? At the end of the 2015-16 season we saw CBS try to do a TV version of Rush Hour. It didn’t work and as far as I can see it didn’t work because there was no demand for seeing the concept revived with a TV budget and without the original stars. I really don’t think the Lethal Weapon remake will be successful and I have my doubts about The Exorcist as well. Of the two TV series revivals, I think 24: Legacy at least has some potential without Kiefer Sutherland. On the other hand I simply don’t see the need for the Prison Break sequel. We had closure with the original series; why revisit it.

I’m dubious about two of FOX’s new comedies, Son Of  Zorn and Making History. The former is a colossal gimmick that I found vaguely funny in the trailer while the latter reminds me of the sort of show that the old UPN network would put on in their Homeboys From Outer Space period. Of the two I think Son of Zorn might find a way to succeed in the ratings (so with my track record that mean’s they’ll both be huge hits). I’m also not sure about A.P.B. The concept is interesting but it might be a touch on the futuristic side and more than a little bit hard to believe. That said I thought the little bit I saw was fun. My problem is that the show might garner the sort of reaction that Almost Human did a few years ago. Or Minority Report did this past season.

The shows that I think have promise (besides 24: Legacy) are Pitch, Shots Fired, Star, and surprisingly The Mick. Pitch want’s to be Jackie Robinson’s story with a woman instead of a minority male, but if it’s done right could be involving even if the premise is hard to swallow. Star is a perfect fit to take over Empire’s time slot and I think that the fact that it is a personal drama rather than the sometimes over the top soap opera tendencies of Empire (come on admit that Empire reminds you just a little of Dallas) is a mark in it’s favour as far as I’m concerned. The strength of Shots Fired should be apparent to anyone watching the trailer. FOX is taking on a serious issue and is doing a serious job with it. Finally, the trailer for The Mick was a genuine surprise for me. I liked the lead character and I thought they got the kids right (and the Hispanic maid was a hoot). Of course, when I think about it I am struck by a superficial resemblance to the concept for The Nanny (minus the romantic entanglement in that show) but then I loved The Nanny.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Check Out My New Blog

Check out my new Blog First Against The Wall Come The Revolution. It's a work in progress, which you can tell because there are no ads on it yet. but I'm having a bit of fun with some of the dumb things that people - and Donald Trump - say and do.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Streaming Boxes–A Biased Overview

I should start by stating a few things that should really disqualify me from writing about this subject, but really when has this ever stopped anyone. I have a third generation Apple TV. I don’t have any of the other devices that I’m going to mention and I have very limited exposure to the fourth generation Apple TV (I asked a guy at an authorized Apple store a couple of questions about it but didn’t get to play with it extensively) and the Roku devices. Another big thing is that I’m a Canadian. If you don’t think that has a lot of implications, then you are in for a learning experience. It restricts the hardware that’s available, the services that you can get and even the programming that is available on many of those services. I intend to discuss services and the differences between Canada and the US, and vent my spleen a bit about the way Canadian TV is set up, in another article.

So let’s start with hardware. What I’m discussing here are set top boxes (though with flat screen TV’s no one can actually put any of these on the top of the TV set) that stream video from Internet providers generally using Wi-Fi. In Canada you basically have three companies to choose from: AppleTV, Roku, and Google. Amazon doesn’t sell its Fire TV (or the Fire tablet for that matter) in Canada and doesn’t offer the Amazon Video service in Canada. Western Digital also sells the WD TV Live product here but it is primarily a device for streaming video from your computer to your TV, and has limited connectivity to Internet sites. It doesn’t do what the devices I’m focussing on do.

Here’s what’s on offer in Canada (prices are in Canadian Dollars, from Best Buy Canada):
  • Apple TV 3rd Generation – $89.99
  • Apple TV 4th Generation 32 GB – $199.99
  • Apple TV 4th Generation 64 GB – $269.99

  • Roku HDMI Streaming Stick – $59.99
  • Roku 1 Streaming Media Player – $59.99
  • Roku 2 Streaming Media Player – $79.99
  • Roku 3 Streaming Media Player – $109.99

  • Chromecast 1st Generation – $39.00 (online only)
  • Chromecast 2nd Generation – $45.00

Let’s start up with the Chromecasts and the Roku Stick (Amazon has it’s own contender in this field the Fire Stick). Their big advantage is portability. You could easily keep one in your luggage when you travel without having to loose any item, although with the Roku Stick you need to take its remote too. The Roku and the first generation Chromecast look like USB keys, albeit a bit larger. They plug into an open HDMI port on your TV so if your TV doesn’t have HDMI you’re out of luck (and should probably get a new TV) with one of these devices. The second Generation Chromecast looks a bit like a smaller than regulation hockey puck on a leash, which is in fact a short cable plugging into the HDMI port. HDMI ports aren’t powered so they need to get power. All three can draw power from the TV’s USB port (if it has one) using a detachable USB cable which can also plug into an adapter to plug into a wall or power strip.

That is where the similarity ends. The Roku Stick comes with a remote and has the capacity to store apps for services like Netflix onboard. In short it sort of acts the other Roku Media players in a much smaller package. Although it is also possible to use your phone as remote, it’s more cumbersome than using the Stick’s own remote. The process with the Chromecast is far different. Your phone is not only your only remote, but it is an essential part of the process. If a service has a phone app then you can use that to select programming and then, if the app is compatible you can tap an icon to send that information to the Chromecast via Wi-Fi. You can also “cast” material that doesn’t directly support Chromecast onto the device using your phone, and can even mirror what you are doing on your phone – browsing a webpage, listening to music, playing a game etc. – although there can be lag problems with game play.

The Chromecast seems like a great device from what I’ve been able to find out, but if what you want to do is watch TV with a familiar interface, either because you’ve got a Roku (or even an Apple TV) at home, or you just want something that is relatively simple to use, you are probably best to go with the Roku Stick.

Turning now to the set top boxes, we should start with the Rokus. Roku has done a very interesting and important thing with this device. Each version fills a particular niche. The Roku 1 works for older TVs; it has composite as well as HDMI connections to the TV, supports analog audio, and works with TVs with 480p, 480i, 720p and 1080p resolution. So if your TV doesn`t have HDMI (like my old CRT in the dining room) you can use the wired connections on this without problems. The current Roku 2 does 720p and 1080p, does not have analog audio of any sort, and only offers an IR remote. The Roku 3 does most of the same things as the Roku 2 but has an analog audio output on the remote through headphones that plug into the remote and allows users to use “WiFi Direct” (basically any device using WiFi including your phone, tablet or – presumably – your laptop) to control the box. The Roku 4, introduced in October 2015 but not offered at Best Buy Canada, supports 4K TVs, offers an optical audio output on the box, and has voice search.

The competition in this field is the Apple TV. The 3rd Generation of the Apple TV (which I own) has an HDMI and Optical Audio output. It supports TVs with 720p and 1080p resolution although the product details section at Best Buy claims it can do 480p. There’s no option to control the box with a wireless device like a phone. The 4th Generation Apple TV drops the Optical Audio output and supports 720p and 1080p resolution, but to the surprise of many does not support 4K. The 4th Generation remote has the standard buttons but also has a touch screen and some voice commands using Siri. You can, for example, tell Siri what sort of movies you want to see, and it will report back movies that fit your search…on some services that support Siri. You can then refine the search by naming a specific star or director etc. There are some other tricks like skipping forward or back by telling Siri how far ahead or back you want to go. Another trick is that by saying “What did he/she say?” Siri will skip back 30 seconds and put up close captioning of the dialog in that particular scene. This is some of the stuff that you can do with the 4th Generation Apple TV that you can’t do with the 3rd Generation device or on the Roku boxes.

Of course what makes these boxes isn’t the hardware, it’s the content. In a very real way “content is king” with all of these devices and that’s where the difference between the United States and Canada comes into play. There are something like 63 to 66 services available to American users of the 3rd Generation Apple TV and only about 33 available to Canadians, and two of those are only available to Canadians. It is possible to get around these restrictions using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), but I’ve been given to understand that at least some of those services are cracking down on customers who use a VPN for that purpose.

Of course, even if you do use a VPN in Canada to get channels available in the United States, you’d probably still see all of the available streaming services. Slightly under a third of the services in the U.S. require you to subscribe to cable channel and in some cases not all cable companies are support Apple TV for specific services. While the number of streaming services available on the Roku is greater (one commenter to an article I used to research this piece commented “63 apps? That's it? Rook (sic) has hundreds and Apple's answer is 63 apps?”) a number of those apps will also have restrictions requiring you to have the cable TV version of the service. A number of the other services require some form of monthly subscription. In some cases – notably HBO Now – this is a “good thing” as it allows you to access premium content without having to have HBO on cable. Of course the price of HBO (in Canada at least) is about $18.00 (Canadian) but it’s the principle of the thing I suppose.

The complaint of the commenter I mentioned, that the 3rd Generation Apple TV had only 63 apps while his Roku box had hundreds is is negated by the 4th Generation Apple TV. There are now hundreds if not thousands of apps available for the new Apple TV. And while most of those are games (and most of those games are of the sort that you play on an iPhone or iPad rather than on a full console) it does represent a major sea change for the Apple TV. On the 3rd Generation Apple TV the only way you could watch material from Leo Laporte’s TWiT network was on the Apple TV’s podcast app. On the new Apple TV there are at least four TWiT apps and one of them is even free (the other three are $0.99). And there are at least four apps from Canadian media companies in addition to Shomi and Crave: CBC News, The National Film Board, the Weather Network, and Sportsnet.

Of course the biggest argument for buying any version of the Apple TV is that it is the only streaming box that includes iTunes, and specifically movie and TV series purchase or rental from Apples iTunes store. There’s also the Apple Music presumably including Beats 1 radio, although this hasn’t been offered to me on my 3rd Generation Apple TV (because I’m Canadian?) There is something to be said for owning content such as a copy of a movie even in these days of streaming media and services. Movies appear on Netflix but they also disappear, and there are certainly things that rarely appear on the streaming services that I can watch (I’m thinking older movies, like from the 1960s and before, and stuff shot in black & white; you won’t find the classic John Wayne movie Red River on Netflix) that are available for sale or rent from Apple.

When most reviewers are asked which streaming device to buy, they usually come down strong on the side of the Roku box in some version. I don’t necessarily think that they’re wrong, in spite of the fact that I own a 3rd Generation Apple TV. I won my Apple TV in a machine at the local mall, and even when I factor in all of the money that I had spent over the previous months to win it, it was still less than the current price of the box, let alone the price at the time ($109). At the time that I won my Apple TV I was actively looking at set top boxes as my next purchase after the soundbar that I was close to getting. I was leaning towards the Roku 3 based on everything that I had heard about the two devices. If I were paying full price and the choice was between the Roku 3 and the 3rd Generation Apple TV, I think that even though the Apple TV is about $40 cheaper I might go with the Roku 3 because of the ability to customize the experience. However, even though the 4th Generation Apple TV is about $90 more than the Roku 3 I’m not totally sure that I wouldn’t have waited a bit and spend the extra money.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

First Cancellation–Wicked City

Wicked_City_ABCABC has announced that they will be pulling their new series Wicked City after three episodes. For now it will be replaced by reruns of reality series Shark Tank which had held down the time slot while the network waited for the show to debut. Yawn

This makes the series, about a kinky serial killer and his lover set in Los Angeles in the 1980s, the first new series of the 2015-16 to actually be cancelled. The cancellation date of November 13 is the latest date for a cancellation in recent years.

But is it really?

There’s no argument that Wicked City is the first series to leave the air this season and the show that has left the air quickest so far this year (3 episodes), but a number of series have had their series orders reduced. These include FOX’s Minority Report, ABC’s Blood & Oil, and NBC’s The Player and Truth Be Told. With the exception of The Player these shows have had their orders reduced from 13 to 10 episodes (The Player’s order was cut to 9 episodes). Aren’t these effectively cancellations, which would mean that these shows were cancelled before Wicked City?

Well I think that maybe an argument could be made along those lines. I suspect that the networks have definite reasons for reducing orders and letting the shows run out their abbreviated orders rather than being pulled outright in the way that Wicked City was.

TV.Com did an article called 6 Reasons Why Networks Are Trimming Orders Instead of Canceling Shows. The writer lists reasons why he thinks that the networks have opted to trim orders. I think that some (but not all) of what he says has some validity. The six reasons, with on interpretation of what I believe he’s saying are:
  1. Face Saving for Networks: Image is everything for the networks and “trimming the order” for a show “sounds” better than saying outright that the show is cancelled.
  2. Shows Finish On Their Own Terms: Trimming the order gives the creative team the ability to craft a series finale rather than having the show just end, or worse end with a cliff-hanger.
  3. The Bridges Remain Unburned: According to the writer, there’s a power shift going on between networks and creators so that “playing nice” – which presumably means not cancelling a show outright – makes more sense for the networks because “you never know who’s going to be worthy of a second chance.
  4. Life (and Money) After Death in Streaming: Basically the idea that even a failed show like Minority Report can have life after leaving the broadcast network – and can generate revenue for the network – on a streaming service like Netflix or Crackle, or some other site that “come up with funny names and pay exorbitant amounts of money for streaming rights to shows.” But they won’t do that if the show only had a couple of episodes before being canned.
  5. The Bench is Shallow: There aren’t the reserves of new shows that can be brought in to fill in the blank spot where a cancelled show used to be – which presumably is why Wicked City is being replaced by reruns of Shark Tank instead of episodes of something new – because those shows are earmarked for hiatus periods of running shows, or to replace short-run shows.The irony is that Wicked City was meant to be a mid-season show, which may indicate that the bench is not only shallow but weak.
  6. Networks Have Accepted the Grim Realities of Their Futures: For this I’m going to have to run nearly his entire reasoning, so please excuse the profanities – they’re his not mine, although my opinion of the logic in this one can be described with a word he uses in this explanation (you can guess which one): Like a single man approaching his 40s and eating Hot Pockets for dinner for the third night in a row, sometimes it's easier for networks to accept that things are just how they are and it's pointless to try harder. This is the new paradigm, and networks understand they're dinosaurs and the chances of getting a huge hit that can float a network are slimmer and slimmer with each day that passes. Yeah, this is a pessimistic view of things, but it's also the truth. You can only throw so much shit at a wall to see if it sticks before you run out of shit and your arm gets tired. More important for networks right now is to try to devise alternate ways of competing with the expanding TV market rather than spending all the money it takes to find the next Empire. 

So I think he may have some valid points with some of his reasons, specifically (and in order) numbers 5, 2, 3, and 4. The big reason is that “the bench is shallow” but more importantly is that it is rare for a new replacement series to earn ratings that are better than the ratings that the show it is replacing earned. As it is, shows starting in January or later often face an uphill struggle to gain acceptance. Empire, which debuted in January 2015, is a rare exception.

I’d like to offer a couple of options of my own that may have some validity.
  1. Trimming the Order is a Flexible Response: Put simply, trimming the order for a show allows the network to reverse or at least modify their decision as to the fate of a show. If, for example, the people who watched Thursday Night Football decided that they’d rather watch The Player on NBC than CBS’s Elementary (or ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder) once football left CBS, a trimmed order would allow the network to react to the sudden upswing in viewers. Not that a sudden increase in audience numbers is a likely outcome. In fact it is increasingly rare in the current TV landscape.
  2. Using What You Paid For: As I understand it – and I readily admit that my understanding of the workings of this part of the TV industry is weak – the networks contract for a certain number of episodes. Those episodes are in various stages of the production process, from completed scripts to post production. The networks has paid, or made partial payment, for those episodes. Trimming the order would stop work on new scripts but would allow the completed scripts (that the network has paid for) to go through the production process.

Of course all of this begs the ultimate question: why was Wicked City cancelled when Minority Report, The Player, Blood & Oil, and Truth Be Told had their orders cut? It seems to be a pretty simple answer really. The viewership for the shows that had their orders reduced were bad, no doubt about that, but the viewership for Wicked City was abysmal This chart shows the combined “live” and same day viewership 18-49 demographic ratings and share of Wicked City and the shows shows that had their orders cut. (There’s same day +7 data also available for some shows but not for Wicked City so I won’t include that). All information taken from Wikipedia which in turn uses data from TV By The Numbers. I will give information for the pilot and the most recent show to air, and for comparison sake I’ll include the information for NBC’s Blindspot, which appears to be the most successful of the new series (except Supergirl, for which I don’t have enough data).

(Same Day +1)
18-49 Rating/Share
Wicked City
November 10 1,690,000 0.4/1
The Player Pilot 4,680,000 1.2/4
November 19 3,410000 0.8/3
Blood & Oil Pilot 6,360,000 1.4/4
November 8 3,400,000 0.8/2
Minority Report Pilot 3,100,000 1.1/3
November 23 1,520,000 0.5/2
Truth Be Told  Pilot 2,580,000 0.7/3
November 20 2,110,000 0.6/2
Blindspot Pilot 10,610,000 3.1/10
November 23 7,030,000 1.9/6

Compared to the four shows that had their orders cut, viewership for the pilot of Wicked City was worse than Minority Report (which probably should have been cancelled but it ran on FOX) and Truth Be Told (which aired on Friday night, where viewership is lower than the rest of the week). Wicked City’s pilot actually had a lower viewership than the most final episode of The Player.  Maybe the worst part of all for ABC was the 18-49 demographic numbers given that at the network’s upfronts in May “ABC president Paul Lee stated that the show was their highest testing pilot of 2015 among millennials.” This group would represent the 18-35 year-old portion of the demographic, and yet the 18-49 rating and share for Wicked City was worse than that of any of the new shows except the Friday series Truth Be Told. This is the big reason why Wicked City got cancelled instead of having its order cut.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Am I Getting Too Old For This?

master-of-noneThis isn’t a review of the show I’m going to be talking about because I broke one of my cardinal rules of reviewing anything. I suppose you could call it more of a musing about the universe and my place as an amateur TV critic, as revealed by my reaction to a new show.

I signed up for Netflix a couple of months ago. There’s a whole story about being Canadian streaming video and how it’s a different experience from the one that Americans face, but that’s for another time. Generally the Netflix experience has been an enjoyable one even though I haven’t been binge watching every show available on on the service, the way we’re apparently supposed to. I usually end up watching one or two shows a night, depending on the night, but sticking with them until I’ve seen all of the available episodes.

Saturday night, after watching Ocean’s 13 (nowhere near as enjoyable as either version of Ocean’s 11 or even Ocean’s 12) I decided that I felt like a comedy. I’ve gone through the first season of Grace & Frankie which I loved so I decided that I’d try Aziz Ansari’s new series Master Of None. I had seen the rave reviews that the series had received from everybody from the New York Times to Vogue Magazine which basically called it hilarious and the greatest thing since sliced bread, or at least the greatest comedy of this year (okay, so admittedly that’s not a high bar to clear based on what the broadcast networks came up with this season. Or last season. I figured I’d give it a try and see what all the fuss was about.

I watched about half the first episode.

That’s why I’m not reviewing Master of None; my cardinal rule of reviewing anything is that you can’t give an informed opinion of anything if you only experience a portion of if. What I can tell you is why I stopped watching it. I didn’t find it funny. More importantly I didn’t find anything or anyone that I could latch onto that could hold my interest. Ansari and the three characters at the start of the episode (after his little tryst and subsequent trip to the pharmacy) were self-absorbed, self-involved, self-satisfied a--holes. There discussion of children and the impact that having children would have was enough to make me want to bludgeon all three of them so that they wouldn’t have children. An example of this was when Ansari was talking about how being a parent would keep him from having pasta. He wants pasta but having a kid means that he has to stay at home to look after the kid so he can’t have pasta. When it’s pointed out that people with kids actually have pasta, the response is that they’re just eating their kid’s Spaghetti-os. I managed to make it a few minutes longer to when Ansari and his buddy Brian were at the party for a one year-old (Brian hogs the bouncy house and gets mad because a kid in there prevents him from getting “his bounce on”) before I said to hell with this and looked for an episode of What’s My Line (with Fred Allen!) on YouTube.

The thing I look for when I’m watching most TV shows is something to hold my interest. This is usually a character that I can feel some empathy for, or sympathy for, or a situation that catches my interest. That’s what got me hooked on The Big Bang Theory from the start; I felt an empathy for Leonard being in love with someone who – at least at the beginning – had no romantic feelings for him. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt too many times. The initial mystery got me into How To Get Away With Murder, but I dropped the show recently – after the initial mystery was solved – because I didn’t like any of the characters. Actually I thought that all of the main characters should be arrested and have the keys to their cells thrown away. Having eliminated the thing that got me interested in the show it had to hold me with the characters and it didn’t have any characters that I felt any empathy or sympathy for. As far as Master of None goes, I felt nothing for Ansari or his friend who monopolized the bouncy house which was as far as I got into the regular characters.

So here’s the thing. I know I have the right to say that I didn’t like what I saw of this show. I can express a personal opinion just as well as anyone.The fact that I can give reasons – or at least I can reasonably cogently explain – why I dislike the show is even better. The problem I have is with being the voice in the wilderness; the guy who says “I hate this,” when everyone else says that “this is genius.” It bothers me because I want to know why I am this out of step with things.

(By the way I’m not kidding about “everyone” liking this show. It has an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 91 on Metacritics with all 28 critical reviews being positive.)

There are probably a lot of reasons why I didn’t rave about this show. I have always stated that I don’t really like most comedies, with a particular distaste for Seinfeld and shows that remind me of it (and boy did Master of None remind me of Seinfeld). Then, as I have said, there is the high annoyance factor that I felt about the characters that I’ve seen. Maybe the show and Ansari would have shown me something if I’d watched more of the episode or a different episode of the series or more episodes of the series? Maybe you have to watch all ten episodes to truly appreciate the show’s genius. The question then becomes whether that is necessarily a good thing, but that’s an issue for another time. Clearly I don’t know enough about the show to deliver a truly informed impression, which is why I didn’t label this as a review of the show.

But there is a nagging doubt in my mind, and that is that I can’t truly appreciate this show because at 59 years of age I am far away from being the target audience of this show. Mark Peikert of The Wrap wrote the following: “Master of None is more articulate than any other show at putting under a microscope that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence. The series also happens to be sexy, hilarious, and very moving, a tribute to Ansari’s observational powers and ability to pinpoint the zeitgeist.” But if the reason that I can’t appreciate this show is because I can’t insinuate myself into “that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence,” is it valid for me to try to review shows for a general audience?