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I used to write an ongoing column for the San Francisco Chronicle that talked about a number of things in the TV industry and it always started the same way, with this line: “Everything we know we learned from television.” And a series of bulleted items followed. It was back in the days before there were nearly 500 scripted series and you could actually pause and think about things, or even half-think and mock something or joke about it. Back before we all died trying to watch series that were stacking up on our DVR (or were stored on streaming services just waiting for us, fueling our anxiety).
I tried the exact same thing at The Hollywood Reporter roughly seven years ago and as the second column was being edited, I got a call that said, “Hey, you used this ‘everything we know we learned from television’ line last week.” Calling it that was a minor jihad against familiarity, a nod to something people might recognize and then say, “Oh, right, I know what that’s going to be and I’ve got time to read that right now” as opposed to “based on the headline, I think Goodman is going to write 2,000 words on the collapse of fringe cable channels and I just can’t with that shit.”
But my point was politely rejected.
So we tried something called a “notes column” and yeah, it really does sound boring, so I said, “Let’s never do that again if we can help it.”
Of course, now we use the all-consuming “Critic’s Notebook” title here at THR, as a useful way to differentiate a review from something of a more analytical nature. I’m totally on board with that and have written many of them, with many more to come, but I’m still finding the multi-topic “notes” column within the, uh, Critic’s Notebook, to be something harder to sex-up and sell in some improved form of “here’s a bunch of thoughts on things about TV.”
So I’m hoping to differentiate a deep-dive on Apple getting into the TV business from a shotgun blast of observations and snark by calling it “26 Things About TV” or what have you and just changing the number each time I do it.
And yes, it was important for me to tell you about that. My brain is weird. OK, let’s do this:
1. With the volcanic Harvey Weinstein news continuing to dominate the entertainment world, it certainly puts the future of Roy Price, vp of Amazon Studios and head of global content for Prime Video, in serious doubt after The Hollywood Reporter story detailing allegations against him hit Thursday. Amazon will have to deal with those allegations and then separate (or not) whether his track record at the streamer will be a factor in that decision.
2. As expected, Apple got into the scripted business this week — more coming, no doubt. I guess if you’re going to start, aligning with Steven Spielberg isn’t a bad idea. Maybe they can get some good TV out of him even beyond Amazing Stories (which is going to have to be reimagined in some prestige way or why even bid on it?). Seems essential.
3. Having already reviewed Mr. Robot for season three (based on six episodes made available by USA Networks), I think there’s a heartwarming story in there about its creative bounce-back — which puts it back on par with its conceptually fresh and highly entertaining first season. But there’s also a frightening story about the ease with which even high-profile series can, with one slip, fall out of the wider discussion (and awards chatter) in the TV industry. Mr. Robot was on top of the world when it was a true summer shocker in 2015 and turned that into a best series Emmy nomination and a win for Rami Malek as lead actor. It’s almost unbelievable how far it dropped from those heights after the second season — it had no serious awards consideration and many fans were disappointed. Imagine what a more mid-level series, in terms of acclaim and attention, must worry about between seasons? If Mr. Robot, no stranger to vats of good ink, fan frenzy and awards cache, can virtually disappear and be left with hopes pinned on a do-or-die third-season creative comeback, then this is one brutally tough business. Which it is, of course. And stories like this shouldn’t completely shock. But, for me, this one did. History suggests fans will continue to watch once-great series beyond their sell-by date, but it’s also true that maybe with the demands and options of Peak TV that history is now merely unreliable data and is no indicator of the here and now.
4. Of course there’s a Roswell reboot in the works at The CW. Network television is about one season removed from rebooting everything that came out in 2012.
5. I do not begrudge this broadcast TV reboot and — let’s see if I can vomit while typing this — “IP” frenzy. All I ask is whether someone will get off their asses and give me the two series I’ve been patiently waiting to be redone: Northern Exposure and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.
6. No, I’m not joking.
7. The Leftovers has the highest Metacritic aggregate score from critics this year. (Long pause, me staring at you uncomfortably in silence.) It’s at 98. Just thought I’d throw that out there so you might actually start watching. From the beginning.
8. Oh, and Pamela Adlon’s Better Things, another show I loved, is sitting just below it at 96. If you’re looking to catch up on something to talk about and be au courant, I’d start there, and pay attention to this first-time director and how her vision comes through. I wrote about TV’s new era of the director — which can’t be denied, even though I’m still firmly in the “TV is a writer’s medium” camp — and much of what is fascinating to watch develop is all the new talent stamping their vision on television, as Adlon is doing.
9. That said, I recently returned from Vancouver, representing THR at the Vancouver International Film Festival yet again (four years?) and connecting those TV and film dots. I interviewed director David Slade (American Gods, an episode of Black Mirror next season) for a Creator Talk and the end result, both from my dinner with him beforehand, our conversation onstage and our walk back to the hotel, is that I’d like to talk to a lot more directors, especially those who are a little bit out there. So, let’s get some wine and do this, directors.
10. On a separate day at VIFF, I interviewed four writers and executive producers under the title “In the Writers Room,” and it featured Simon Davis Barry (Continuum), who created and wrote the new Ghost Wars for Syfy; Thomas Schnauz, writer and executive producer on Better Call Saul; Sheri Elwood (creator of Call Me Fitz), writer and executive producer on Fox’s Lucifer; and Michael Grassi, writer and co-executive producer on The CW’s Riverdale.
Everybody had stories, of course (and Schnauz provided a photo of the storyboards in the Saul room, which was a thing of immense beauty once projected on the theater screen, eliciting jealous praise from Barry and Elwood in particular). Worth noting: Without almost any promotion, Lucifer had its best ratings ever in its third season premiere and Riverdale absolutely killed it this week for The CW in its second season premiere. Both of those shows are proof not only that streaming (on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon) is absolutely essential to boost broadcast series, but that people continue to find new series long after traditional media has stopped writing about them (which is part of the reason I’ve argued that criticism, in post-review form, is evergreen for TV in the modern age; the Riverdale boost speaks directly to people having the time to discover it well after the fact).
A more depressing note, but one where a good-natured pro like Barry kept his spirits up, came when we found out that Syfy didn’t get any review links or screeners out to critics before the premiere of Ghost Wars. I’m sure Syfy/NBC Universal will cut the show some slack for that, and here’s hoping audiences circle back in this very crowded field to give the show a chance. I’m friends with Barry so I can’t review it initially, but the parts I’ve seen look compelling and I’m going to do my own circling back on it (plus, hey, you can catch a preview on the video above).
And yes, at dinner I did mention to Schnauz that it must be a slog having written for both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. He’s such a nice guy — I wish he’d catch a break.
11. I got to kick off my stay in Vancouver by doing a live TV Talk Machine podcast with partner Jason Snell and we both marveled once again at how nice Canadians are. Also there was an open bar.
12. Several people who I believe have a pretty keen eye for good material noted — pre-scandal, just FYI — that Amazon Studios has a number of series in the pipeline that could be game-changers for the streamer. Just passing that along. My motto remains the same: “I’ll let you know.”
13. Number of students in my Visual Studies class (out of 18) at the acclaimed California College of the Arts, who could name even one broadcast network: 1. Number who have a Netflix subscription: 17. But don’t worry, the TV industry’s not changing.
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