Pilot Fishing, part two (Mania.com)

By:Jason Davis
Date: Monday, September 04, 2006

More pilots! Yes, I've dipped into the DVD trough once more to share with you my opinions on three more shows new to the schedule this year and let me say that, on the whole, this batch is qualitatively better than last weeks, yet fills me with substantially more misgivings. "A dichotomy!" you exclaim eager for me to explain. Almost a year ago, I had a lovely chat with Tim Minear, he of ANGEL, FIREFLY, and WONDERFALLS fame, and he was able to express in words something that had been nagging me for sometime. He noted the tendency for producers to pitch, and networks to buy, great ideas that didn't have "legs." By this, he referred to cool concepts that are not sustainable as traditional television series that must clear five or so seasons to see a profit. Now, there's no question that "traditional," in television, is an endangered concept because shows like THE SHIELD or THE SOPRANOS would have to run for eons to hit syndicatable (this is actually a word, but I've never heard it used...) numbers. DVDs, cable re-purposing, and other such industry evolutions have provided marketable value for shows that previously would have been nothing more than studio tax write-offs. Still, this idea of "legless" shows being brought to the viewer as ongoing series when there seems to be only a season's worth of story disturbs me. Then again, I remember wondering what 24PRISON BREAK would do for season two. Call me old fashioned.

Following HEROES in NBC's Monday night line-up is STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP. Coming from the pen of WEST WING creator Aaron Sorkin and guided to the screen by frequent Sorkin collaborator Thomas Schlamme, it doesn't take a prognosticator to suggest that the show will have great writing and directing. Of course, the Sorkin-Schlamme combine also attracts phenomenal talent in front of the camera so the cast is a greatest hits list of TV faces ranging from Matthew Perry to Sarah Paulson with a dose of Sorkin nostalgia in the form of Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield from the WING (not to mention SPORTS NIGHT star Felicity Huffman playing herself in the pilot). Sorkin's fascination with delving behind the scenes of a live TV show goes back to his first series and no one does the TV about TV genre like the master. The pilot's teaser introduced the viewer to STUDIO 60, a west coast version of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and the energy of the live production is palpable. When Judd Hirsch, playing a Lorne Michaels-like figure, has a Howard Beale-style breakdown, you feel the tension on the set, and the show just gets better from there. I look forward to the series debut and pray that the behind the scenes problems that led to Sorkin and Schlamme's departure from the Bartlet administration don't recur.

In last week's talkbacks, shaolinronin listed a rundown of pilots he/she had seen ranking them from best to worst. Last on the list was JERICHO which, simply put, chronicles the existence of a Jericho, Kansas after the rest of the world, as far as we know, goes up in a nuclear explosion. The show has an excellent cast led by Skeet Ulrich, whose last series MIRACLES was one of those cancellations that just leaves you screaming "WHY?" to the heavens. Also onboard are Gerald McRaney (fresh from his tour de force performance as mining magnate George Hearst on DEADWOOD), Shoshanna Stern (with whom I fell in love during the first year of WEEDS), and the lovely Beth Grant (who sells small town like no other actor in the business). These familiar faces, alongside several new folks with whom I was not previously familiar suggests that JERICHO is something of a post-apocalyptic PICKET FENCES--an idea I find both intriguing and worrisome. Those of you familiar with the 1975 BBC series SURVIVORS (probably not a large group, but those of you with Region 2 capable DVD players should do yourself a favor and watch the incredibly good first season) know that there's a hell of a lot that can be done with this concept. Writer Stephen Chbosky's track record seems to be mostly in the feature arena and there's no telling how he'll develop the show. The pilot itself, though cool in concept, is a catalog of clichés although some of the more egregious examples never made it past the script. With reality shows and BONES its only competition Wednesday at 8pm, the show has a good chance of developing and finding an audience, so it'll be interesting to see what, if anything, happens with the concept.

Last up, we have THE NINE, which follows LOST on Wednesday nights. This show has got it made because it's exactly the format that viewers of the lead-in will latch onto. Unfortunately, I suspect its format will also find it struggling to survive past a first season. Then again--24--so what do I know? The eponymous nine are the survivors of a bank hold-up that goes terribly wrong. By the opening credits, 54 hours have passed and the situation is over, but the events of the crisis will, presumably, haunt the survivors for the rest of the series. Though its not explicitly set up during the pilot, I'm assuming the show will follow a structure akin to LOST wherein each episode will focus on one of the nine and flashback to their captivity in the bank. That would effectively make it the inverse of LOST which flashes back to the vast scope of the castaway's existence while framing the flashbacks within a relatively short time on the island. Instead, THE NINE's narrative will exploit the 54 hour hostage situation within the ongoing frame of the survivors' lives. The pilot script sets up a great many mysteries, but hedges its bets in terms of exhausting too much story material. My feeling is that the show will parcel out revelations slowly to prolong its life and, as a result, annoy viewers who thing it progresses too slow. That's the criticism I most often hear leveled at LOST, so I'm betting it'll be the case here. Still, it's another compelling cast and intriguing formula so I suspect it'll be a great success for ABC and I look forward to seeing how it develops. Besides, it's nice to have Matthew Fox and Scott Wolf side-by-side on network TV so many years after PARTY OF FIVE. Now, if CBS would just move GHOST WHISPERER to Wednesdays...nevermind.

E-mail your comments to wastelandjason@hotmail.com.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 4



PRISON BREAK (8 PM PST, Fox) "Scan" Can I just say how amusing it is to spot the stars of hot shows in early, pre-fame appearances. Check out BUFFY's "Go Fish" from season two for a classic before they were stars moment.

VANISHED (9 PM PST, Fox) "Drop" Will Rebecca Gayheart stay on this show longer than she lasted on DEAD LIKE ME...watch and see.

WEEDS (9 PM PST, Showtime) "The Plant" Nancy and Conrad set up their marijuana farm.

LIFE ON MARS (10 PM PST, BBC America) Episode 7 The penultimate episode ratchets up the tension for a damn good finale next week. Wait 'til you see what they have in store for season twoit's brilliant!
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5



DEAD LIKE ME (7 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Rest in Peace" Don't let Fox's night of premieres distract you from taping/TiVo-ing this wonderful series! Jewel Staite guest stars if that makes any difference...

HOUSE, MD (8 PM PST, Fox) "Meaning" House recovers from his gunshot wound while diagnosing two disparate cases of paralysis. Clare Kramer, of BUFFY big bad fame, guest stars.

DEAD LIKE ME (8 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Send in the Clown" Season two makes its basic cable debut and George's parents decide to divorce.

STANDOFF (9 PM PST, Fox) Pilot Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt star in this pilot reviewed in last week's column. I fear that HOUSE's consistently high quality will only call attention to this show's faults, so I'm planning to blame poor scheduling if/when Fox cancels it. Ron Livingston and Gina Torres are great, though.

EUREKA (9 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Right as Raynes" Your humble columnist finally recognizes star Colin Ferguson as a patron of the bookstore where he once worked. He also notes, with all due sympathy, that the actor was involved in the ill-conceived American re-make of COUPLING, but the less said about that, the better.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6



BONES (8 PM PST, Fox) "The Mother and the Child in the Bay" It's time for HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE star Zooey Deschanel to guest star on her big sister's TV show. Who's with me? Actually, now that I think about it, I'd be more impressed if their father, cinematographer Caleb Dechanel, shot an episode of BONES. Check out the movie ASK THE DUST on DVD to see what I mean.

JUSTICE (9 PM PST, Fox) "Pretty Woman" I wasn't too keen on this show's pilot, but I'll give it a chance if only because I adore Victor Garber, Kerr Smith, and Eamonn Walker...

BLADE: THE SERIES (10 PM PST, SPIKE TV) "Monsters" As long as Blade keeps to the shadows and handles the action leaving Krista free to be emotionally involved in the story, this episode should be fine. Vary the recipe at your own risk.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 7



In an effort to leave no vacancies on this scheduleI rushed to PBS's website in the hopes of including details on tonight's MYSTERY!, that esteemed anthology that introduced me to so many shows I still hold dear today. Imagine my horror at discovering that MYSTERY! was devoured by MASTERPIECE THEATRE and that the two showcases now alternate programming on Sunday nights. This was a bit of a wound, not so much because it happened, but because I hadn't noticed it happened. My support of PBS disintegrated when I moved to Los Angeles and could no longer spare the donation, so I feel a bit of guilt over this... Of course, both shows were produced via a grant from Mobil, so I guess that esteemed company shares my complicity for reducing their contribution, but it just goes to show you how important showing your support really is...despite the annoying pledge drives. So, to Nicka reader who wrote me regarding the vacancies on this scheduleI tried, but I failed...in more ways than one.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8


NIGHT STALKER (8 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Three" A campus cult is up to no good.

STARGATE: SG-1 (9 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Memento Mori" Vala suffers a case of amnesia on a strange planet.

STARGATE: ATLANTIS (10 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "McKay and Mrs. Miller" Rodney returns to Earth in this amusingly titled installment.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9



SHARPE (9 PM PST, BBC America) Sean Bean stars in this series adapting the works of writer Bernard Cornwell. Though I've only seen a few of these programs, I've very much enjoyed them and commend them to your attention via reader rexxdart, who so kindly suggested I list them in the Saturday night vacancy. Alas, BBC America's listings haven't reached the date in question so the title of the episode is a matter for speculation, I fear.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

THE SIMPSONS (8 PM PST, Fox) " The Mook, the Chef, the Wife, and Her Homer" THE SOPRANOS' Michael Imperioli and Joe Pantoliano guest star in the mob-themed season 18 premiere named for Peter Greenaway's 1989 movie starring Helen Mirren (who happens to be fantastic in the upcoming film THE QUEEN as HRH Queen Elizabeth II).
BROTHERHOOD (10PM PST, Showtime) "Vivekchaudamani: 51" Yet another Eastern text slips into the title page of a BROTHERHOOD script leading your columnist on an Internet search for the appropriate passage...my deadline approached, so it'll probably be posted in the talkbacks. The management apologizes for the inconvenience and its employee's ignorance of Sanskrit.