“The Fien Print” on ABC’s THE ZERO HOUR

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: ABC’s ‘The Zero Hour’ – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch: Horologists, Nazis, Rosicrucians and Goose… Oh my!
Quick Response: In previewing “Do No Harm” last week, I mentioned that it was one of “three or four audaciously weird, wacky and possibly terrible (but possibly terribly addictive) new dramas” premiering at midseason. ABC’s “The Zero Hour” is another. Creator Paul T. Scheuring (“Prison Break”) is no stranger to seemingly unsustainable premises that may have been better suited to a miniseries format and I guess you could *kinda* argue that “Prison Break” found ways to regularly reinvent itself frequently enough to justify airing for four seasons, rather than for eight episodes as a Limited Series Event. But “Zero Hour,” with its tenuous and sometimes foolhardy alternate history involving the secret religious orders and scientific exploration and the Holocaust, is possibly even less suited for a long run and even more suited for a strictly capped episode run. Some stories aren’t meant to run for 200 episodes and I get the feeling that with its Rosicrucians, demon babies, underground clockmakers and 12-centric numerology, “The Zero Hour” should maybe run 10 hours, deliver answers and get out while the getting’s good.

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Oh, hell, we disagree with DF on this one. Because we believe that any show “involving the secret religious orders and scientific exploration and the Holocaust…[and] Rosicrucians, demon babies,” et al should run forever. Count us in on this one, baby. No matter what. (Well, there is one thing that could put us off: If it was produced or directed by Steven Spielberg and/or starred Tom Hanks. We’ll leave it to y’all to think on why.)

“The Fien Print” Ruminates on CBS’ MADE IN JERSEY

Take Me To The Pilots ’12: CBS’ MADE IN JERSEY – by Daniel Fienberg

The Pitch: “My Cousin Vinnie,” if you got rid of Joe Pesci and it just turned out that Marisa Tomei was a talented lawyer, in addition to being a hilarious ethnic stereotype.

Quick Response: Janet Montgomery *is* a star. I agree with FOX, which brought her in in an unsuccessful attempt to goose ratings for “Human Target” and I agree with CBS, which cast Montgomery in a show called “Made in Jersey,” despite a natural accent that’s distinctly from the wrong side of The Pond. I don’t really know what to make of “Made in Jersey,” unfortunately. CBS has been running trailers which focus more on Fish Out of Water humor than the actual tone of the show, which is closer to a straight-forward character-driven legal procedural with hints of cartoony local color. Montgomery, whose Jersey accent is acceptable, if not flawless, is very good playing a woman who comes off as kinda a Sherlock Holmes for trashy, blue collar details. She’s sexy and straight-forward and Montgomery really isn’t mugging or over-relying on stereotypes. The same cannot be said of Donna Murphy and Erin Cummings as two members of the main character’s Big Stereotypical Italian Family, an element that the producers said at TCA press tour that they intend to play up. Ugh. Bad idea.

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MY COUSIN VINNIE sans Joe Pesci? But…but…but Joe Pesci is MCV. He’s all that film has. OTOH, Marisa Tomei was far more interesting in that than she’s ever been in anything since. Is it because the character was/is inherently awesome? Or because Pesci brought it out of her? Guess we’ll find out when this hits the air.

Latest LOUIE Kills – And It’s All in the Writing

Last night’s opening of a 3 part arc on LOUIE took our breath away, asking, as it did, questions like:

“What price success?”

“Why do people in showbiz have to beat you up when presenting an opportunity?”

“Will Louie break?”

At least, those are the questions we thought were being asked. And Alison Willmore of Indiewire sort of agrees:

‘Louie’ Gets Lucky at Last With the Showbiz Offer All Comics Dream Of — Don’t They? – by Alison Willmore

Where do working stand-ups go if they don’t break big, if they have just enough success to keep grinding it out on the road, doing gigs around the country until they’re too tired? That dark kingdom is just as significant a presence as the crazy possibility of a major late night gig in last night’s episode of “Louie,” the first of a three parter, “Late Show Part 1.” Louie (Louis C.K.) gets flown to Los Angeles with his pre-adolescent agent Doug (Edward Gelbinovich) where he’s going to close out “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” He warms up with his four-and-a-half minute bit at the Improv the night before, a solid and thematically relevant piece about the luxuries and burdens of consumerism, and how “life is good, and so we want it to be better.” His biggest worry is that he’s going to be bumped, because the main guest on the show the following night is Tom Cruise, who tends to go long.

And then Cruise doesn’t show, scared off by the surprise Leno (playing himself) had planned for him (a motorcycle), and Louie’s suddenly getting promoted to lead guest by the apologetic host (“Tell an airplane story,” he suggests), having a mic slapped on him, getting showered down with hairspray and ushered into the bright lights of the studio. We don’t see his appearance, only the morning after, when Louie wakes up in his hotel room looking like he’s been dragged through the back alleys of Hollywood, and the melancholy music suggests maybe he bombed — except that he’s got multiple missed calls from Doug, who tells him the set already went viral on YouTube and that he’s got a meeting with someone high up at CBS in an hour.

The weirdness of the whole sequence, of Louie’s sudden showbiz hotness after a lucky break, of the very important meeting with someone unknown for reasons unknown, of confidentiality agreement and the unexpected giant potential job offer he’d never thought about being waved in front of his face — these things don’t actually seem that exaggerated from the reportedly reality of how these negotiations shake out. Bill Carter’s great reads “The Late Shift” and “The War for Late Night” make it clear, among other things, that some people have always aspired to host a late night talk show and others, like Craig Ferguson, come into it unexpectedly.

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EDITED BY LB TO ADD: The question, “Why do people in showbiz have to beat you up when presenting an opportunity?” is a good one. I’ve had some terrific job opportunities in my career, but they’ve always been presented in the same way Louie’s was in this episode. “You’re an unworthy, miserable piece of shit, but I’m going to make you a king. Maybe. I dunno. Depends on how much you please me. Start dancing.”

I guess we’ll be seeing Louie dance for awhile. Others may find it amusing, but I know it’s going to break my heart.

NBC Shares What “Normal” Is

**This is a review of the Pilot episode of NBC’s “The New Normal”, which debuts on September 11, 2012. You may screen it online early to decide whether it’s good, great, or not quite “normal” enough for you.**

What is normal?

According to Ryan Murphy and NBC, it’s a world where homosexual couples can have babies just like straight couples.

I think it’s safe to say Mitt Romney won’t be tuning in.

Thanks to their generous – some would call it desperate – offering of allowing the world to view their new comedy, The New Normal, prior to its debut, I can also safely say NBC has a hit on its hands.

You know, if people aren’t as racist as Nana.

And no, that’s not saying all grandmothers in the world are racist, but the one in the show most certainly is. It’s no secret times have changed and this type of open relationship would have been blasphemous some thirty, maybe even ten or twenty years ago. These beliefs are reflected in this character, and it helps to bring a since of “normal” to the show.

Let’s face it. There will always be people who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that only this type of union should be allowed to care for a child’s upbringing. NBC is taking a major chance here, and not just based on the premise of the show, but in the longevity of the show.

A quick recap: Brian and David are a homosexual couple who are at a point in their lives where they’re thinking of having a family. They enlist the services of an agency to help them find a surrogate, and come across Goldie, a mother to a pre-teen that had her when she was fifteen. Feeling like the only thing she has left to live for is her daughter, she agrees to become their surrogate because, like all things in the world, she needs the money.

There are some supporting players, like Goldie’s bigoted Nana and Brian’s African American assistant who presents quite the counter punch when she meets Nana, but of course, the real story lies with surrogacy.

The story plays out well, it’s easy to follow, it’s funny, and it keeps your attention. But once the baby is delivered, where does it go? Why should I watch this if the story really ends after birth?

Without giving away the ending of the Pilot, there’s an emotional moment that lends you to believe there’s a story beyond the surrogacy involving the couple and their surrogate. Is it a great one that lends itself to many comedic moments? Time will tell.

Will you watch? If you’re comfortable enough with it, I recommend you do. Will I be watching? I’ll be lending it my three-episode rule.*

*Which, of course, means if there’s enough intrigue, I’ll watch. If you haven’t sold me by the third, adíos muchacho.*

“Who are we to make these decisions? We’re the media elite.” (News from The Newsroom)

I have yet to read a single review of The Newsroom  that doesn’t reveal as much or more about the character of the reviewer as it does about the show itself. Although there are many (many) sins of television making of which I could accuse Aaron Sorkin, uncomplicated is not one of them.

What the hullabaloo reveals is a cultural conversation many of us are having right now, yearning for intelligence in news. Sorkin takes that conversation (not a new revelation by any means) and runs with it – and apparently (despite mixed reviews) popularly enough to garner a second season.

The show itself is not dissimilar from The West Wing: while I would never accuse Sorkin of not believing all the things he says (and he says a lot of things), he certainly has opportunistic timing in choosing the subjects of his shows.  Then again, it may be the only context  in which his particular brand of self-righteous, Shakespearean oratory can really soar.

Shall I compare thee to FOX or CNN?
Thou art more lovely and more moderate.

Sorkin has an innate tempo, not just to his words, but to his structure. In this how-to on writing, he even technically talks about the musical structure of his diatribes (I mean, monologues), and jumping from show to show of his is eerily akin to watching a concert of symphonies by the same composer.

The question that every Sorkin show asks of its reviewer is not, then whether the show is “good” – composition-wise, the dialogue is always pretty strong – but whether the topic of the show merits the symphonic grandiosity his words bring.  After all, Rachmaninoff is not the Rolling Stones, and to pretend otherwise would make fools out of both.

I knew he was a rock star.

There has been a mixed response to The Newsroom because this question is not as easy to answer as it was with The West Wing.  Of course we all want leaders who spout statistics and burst out on impassioned rants about fixing the world, of course we want principled, righteous, intelligent people of all stripes running our country.

The jury is out about whether those same characters (essentially), when placed in a newsroom, become egomaniacs whose idea of their own importance is so blindingly overblown that they really believe they are the only people capable of reporting the news to America (see Season 1, Episode 9, MacKenzie’s long speech after the power goes out).

The show’s conceit of reporting on past news stories is another millstone around its neck: it comes across as Sorkin saying to every news network in America that his network would have reported more nobly on events, had it been real.

Well, hindsight is 20/20, and while I am never going to jump to the immediate defense of either FOX, CNN or MSNBC, I appreciate that they make difficult decisions every day, which would certainly be easier if they also knew the outcome of the news stories ahead of time (as Sorkin’s newsroom does).

West Wing operated in a different world  – partially out of necessity, since (to all of our great chagrin) Josiah Bartlet was not, in fact, president..  The Newsroom’s challenge, which ultimately may be its downfall, is taking on the real world and idealizing what has already happened –a strange breed of wishful nostalgia about what-might-have-been-but-wasn’t.

To me, this is entirely different than West Wing, which was about what-still-could-and-should-be, perhaps a better conversation to be having about both government and the media.

Bartlet 2012