Monday, May 30, 2011

"CHAOS" on CBS Holds Promise, If it Remains on the Schedule

The creators of the new show CHAOS on CBS drew me in immediately with the title.   About a group of rogue CIA officers, the name is an obvious reference to the sinister KAOS, foil to Control, in the ultimate TV spy spoof, Get Smart.

An hour-long drama attempting to be humorous, CHAOS does not measure up to that great program of the 1960’s brought to us by the unrivaled Buck Henry and Mel Brooks, but it does have its moments.  True aficionados of the genre will recognize a bit of background music from the 1967 Bond satire, Casino Royale.

CHAOS on CBS is no Get Smart,
but it does have its moments

Eric Close is the biggest name in a cast.  The others are Tim Blake Nelson, Freddy Rodriguez, James Murray, Carmen Ejogo and Christina Cole.  Kurtwood Smith, the dad from That 70’s Show, plays the CIA Director.

The first four named above are members of a unit called the Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services (CHAOS) who, according to CBS, combat threats to national security amidst bureaucratic gridlock, rampant incompetence and political infighting - and try to have some fun at the same time.  Sounds promising, right?

In the first episode I watched, a female operative in Hong Kong has been exposed and the team must fly there to protect her.  They find that the agent has been duped by her contact and is at the mercy of a military officer who is not who he claims to be.  Not really funny stuff for a genuine member of the CIA.  

Despite that, the producers try to make this funny and clever with little success.  The writers construct a scenario where one of the CHAOS team, Tim Blake Nelson, is the former flame of the compromised officer.  When the two meet up, they bicker and engage in what is supposed to be witty repartee.  It doesn’t work.

In another installment, the team is involved with the drug cartels of Bolivia.  A little better than the first, this episode focuses on the guys in the team and their dependence on each other.  The humor is a notch above and the plot a bit thicker than the previously mentioned episode, leading me to believe this program has potential.

Now on Saturdays at 8 p.m., CHAOS has returned from a hiatus after three episodes that aired in April.  I was able to watch two episodes online, but can’t find the third.  There’s no word yet on the future of the program, except that CBS has it on the current schedule.

I’d keep on eye on CHAOS, because it could get a lot better.  But this spy show has a way to go before it can be compared to its predecessors.  If this one doesn’t take hold, try the equally mediocre Covert Affairs on USA returning on June 7th.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Too Big to Fail" Passes: It's a Must-See

                                                                                     HBO Photo
The most fun thing about watching "Too Big to Fail,"running throughout May and June on HBO, is seeing all the great actors (and one actress) in their roles as power brokers in this drama about the failure of Lehman Brothers, AIG and almost all of Wall Street in September 2008.  William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, James Woods, Tony Shalhoub, Billy Crudup, Bill Pullman, Michael O'Keefe, Topher Grace, Cynthia Nixon and more appear.

But this movie is not supposed to be fun. It should be - and is - an educational look at what happened to the U.S. financial system - how years of deregulation, funky financial products and runaway banks who tanked the housing market nearly caused another great depression.  It's also about how the federal government and the investment banks wheeled and dealed to save the system.

The movie very closely follows Andrew Ross Sorkin's book of the same title on which it is based.  There are a couple of extras.

I don't remember reading that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is a Christian Scientist.

I do, however, recall the characterizations of the principals of the financial firms as pretty unsavory and extremely selfish.  The film also portrays the SEC as wimpy and powerless while those at Treasury have backbones.

Additionally, women are portrayed as background players who have no idea what's going on.  When Cynthia Nixon's character, the PR person for Treasury, is told to hold a news conference, the guys have to explain the situation to her so she can properly inform the media.  Pretty misogynistic.

Senator John McCain is also made to look bad for screwing up a meeting at the White House where Congressional leaders were supposed to come up with a plan that would make them look like heroes. By all accounts that is true.

Even Alan Greenspan, the once revered FED chairman, is made to look like an idiot when a character relays his suggestion that the government buy up all the foreclosed-on homes. He thought they should be burned to the ground to create a housing shortage that would drive prices back up. Seriously?

Anyone in the financial world knows this story already, and then some.  But the general public has remained largely in the dark. In the years since all this took place, not much has changed.  Wall Street has come back, but the housing market has not and millions of people are still jobless.

Even worse, there has been no significant legislation passed that would reverse what caused the collapse of the system. No one went to jail. And those who created the mess are still earning billions. Compensation on Wall Street reached $135 billion, according to the film.

If books and movies like "Too Big to Fail" are produced to send a message, this one succeeds. It's too bad it's unlikely anyone will respond.

Note:  A companion film, "Too Big to Fail: Opening the Vault to the Financial Crisis," a look at the 2008 financial crisis with the cast & crew of the original film plus financial experts and others is also running this month and next on HBO.

Friday, May 20, 2011

All in All, Not a Bad Summer of Viewing Ahead

The end of the TV season and a flimsy summer schedule leaves viewers in the lurch for the next few months, unless we want to go out and actually do stuff.  Pretty much.

The good news is that The Closer (July 11) and Rescue Me (July 12) will be back for their final seasons on TNT, though the network will stretch out The Closer off and on until next summer.  The last six episodes will set up a show called Major Crimes that will have some of the same actors.

White Collar and Covert Affairs come back to USA on June 7th.  Yay.  Rizzoli and Isles has returned to TNT while Leverage returns on June 26th.   

TV Land's smash, Hot in Cleveland, has 12 new episodes beginning Wednesday, June 15 at 10 PM ET/PT, immediately followed by Fran Drescher’s new sitcom Happily Divorced.  It centers on Drescher as a Los Angeles florist who starts dating after learning her realtor husband of 18 years (John Michael Higgins) is gay. (This storyline mirrors the comedienne’s own real life with gay husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, who co-produced The Nanny and is writing this entry with her.) 

In the new show, Fran juggles her relationships as she shares a home with her ex.  Also in the cast is her best friend, Judi (Tichina Arnold), her parents Dori and Glen (Rita Moreno and Robert Walden) and her flower delivery employee Cesar (Valente Rodriguez).

On Hot, new episodes pick up as Elka (Betty White) is on the lam with Amish people after being convicted of holding stolen goods appropriated by her late husband, a mob boss. The gals have to find her before her sentencing date.  Also in store for the season are a writing job at Woman’s Day for Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli), a reunion with a lost son for Joy (Jane Leeves) and a case of mistaken identity for Victoria (Wendie Mallick).

Even better will be the show’s continued use of fun guest stars: Buck Henry (Get Smart, 30 Rock), Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough), John Mahoney (Leeves’ Frasier co-star), Doris Roberts, Jennifer Love Hewitt, George Wendt (Norm of Cheers), Mindy Cohn, soap star Antonio Sabato Jr. and the return of Huey Lewis and Wayne Knight.

In reality land, The Bachelorette for 2011 is Ashley Hebert, the 26-year-old University of Pennsylvania dental student who wasn’t good enough for loser Brad Womack.  He failed to find a woman in two attempts on The Bachelor.

Master Chef and Hell’s Kitchen will return on Fox.  These two qualify as semi-trash and trash, respectively, but I’m sure they will suck me in.

And speaking of s-cking, Bachelor Pad, America’s Got Talent, Marriage Ref and The Voice are also slated for the summer.  The Voice debuted in April, but I haven’t heard anyone talking about it, so I can’t imagine it’s worth watching.

Two programs I will check out for sure are Franklin and Bash on TNT and Expedition Impossible on ABC.

The first stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack from Saved by the Bell) and Breckin Myer (Garfield), as a couple of trial lawyers.  Premiering Wednesday, June 1st at 9, the two are ambulance chasers recruited by a big law firm where they are know-it-all fish-out-of-water.

Expedition Impossible is described by ABC as the following: 13 three-person teams find themselves racing across vast deserts, over snow-capped mountains and through raging rivers in the beautifully exotic, fabled Kingdom of Morocco. Yes, it sounds like Amazing Race.  The program will last 10 weeks beginning Thursday, June 23rd at 9pm.

The rest of the news is pretty disappointing.  There will be no My Boys this summer.  That magnificent show was cancelled with little fanfare.  The cable outlets have a few additional programs on the schedule that mean nothing to me.  They include HawthoRNe, Memphis Beat (both TNT) and Rookie Blue (ABC), which has actually received some positive notice.

All in all, not a bad summer of viewing, I guess, but there will be ample time for outdoor fun and that is good news.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fox Wins the TV Season Ratings Race, but Cable is the Real Victor: Danger Lurks for Viewers Seeking Quality as Those Over 50 are Ignored

The future of television?
Ratings for the 2010/11 TV season are almost final and its looks like Fox wins in the 18-49 age category most sought by advertisers, which is quite silly considering the aging yet wealthier population.  The numbers and the fact that programmers ignore older viewers accounts for some of the trash on television.

It is reported that the broadcast networks are losing their hold on audiences and, with the exception of Univision, their ratings are down an average of 9% from last year.  Where are those millions of viewers going?  To cable.

Under 49 viewers are migrating to the non-broadcast networks where last week’s ratings show the Top 20 most viewed programs were: pro-basketball games (TNT,ESPN), the WWE (USA), Pawn Stars (HIST), O’Reilly (FNC), Suite Life on Deck(DSNY), A.N.T. Farm(DSNY), Swamp People (HIST), Law & Order: CI (originals) (USA) and Shake It Up (DSNY).

Throughout the season, the highest rated cable shows are Pawn Stars (HIST), ICarly (NICK), Spongebob (NICK), Jersey Shore (MTV), NCIS reruns (USA), White Collar (USA), Chopped (FOOD), The Closer (TNT), Burn Notice (USA) and various baseball and football games.

Amazing isn’t it?

Of course, the bulk of viewers remain with the broadcast networks, especially those not being counted, like the legions of viewers over 50 who do buy goods and services, but are ignored by the companies buying the commercial time.

Those of us with taste are watching Fox (which had a 3.5 audience share) for American Idol, Glee, House, Bones and Family Guy.  Helping, but not completely attributable to the ratings win, was the Fox broadcast of the Super Bowl.

CBS (2.9) comes in second for the season.  Its strongest shows are The Big Bang Theory, NCIS (original and LA), Two and a Half Men, Survivor, Criminal Minds, The Good Wife, The Mentalist and How I Met Your Mother.

ABC (2.4) and NBC (2.3) are pretty far behind the leader.  ABC’s winners are Body of Proof, Desperate Housewives, Castle, Grey’s Anatomy and, of course, Dancing with the Stars.

NBC really needs help.  It has only the Biggest Loser, Law & Order: SVU, The Voice and Sunday Night Football.  Its Thursday night line-up of comedy is not doing well and will continue to do poorly with Steve Carell’s departure from The Office.

There are good programs on cable (White Collar and the soon-to-be-departed The Closer are among my favorites), but I’m still more interested in watching a good, witty, intelligent drama like the Good Wife or Castle.  I know many readers also enjoy House, Glee and Desperate Housewives.

The better quality shows are on the broadcast networks, but the fact that they’re losing steam is serious cause for concern from a viewer’s standpoint.  It means there is little incentive to produce great programming if programmers choose to ignore the older audience and cater to those flocking to the likes of the Jersey Shore.

Why would the networks spend a lot of money to produce a weekly drama if they can draw ratings from substandard material that costs a lot less to get on the air?

Sadly, we’re in for less quality and more mediocre-to-outright trashy shows.

Unless advertisers start paying attention to adults over 49 whose viewing habits have more to do with quality, we can look forward to more junk over the next few years.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dial 911: General Hospital Out for Katie Couric?

Can ABC really be thinking about replacing "General Hospital" with a Katie Couric talk show?  TMZ reports that Couric is close to a $20 million deal at ABC/Disney, which would give her a syndicated program and a significant presence on the ABC News platforms.

Don’t the networks ever learn from previous errors?

Shout out to all network executives:


In the past year alone, there has been the addition of “The Talk” while others on the horizon include Rosie O’Donnell (in the Oprah slot), and Anderson Cooper’s coming entry.  Regis Philbin is leaving “Live!” and shopping around a show of his own.  Two others, “The Chew” (about food) and “The Revolution” (about wellness) will take the place of "One Life to Live" and "All My Children.”  I don’t have to list all the others.  Who needs more chatter?

If Couric has to have a show, why doesn’t hers replace an existing program like the horrific “Maury” or the despicable “Tyra Banks Show?”  Couric doesn’t have a great track record, as evidenced by a five-year ratings slide on the “CBS Evening News,” but she’s likeable, intelligent and a good interviewer.  Any installation from her would be better than the wackiness of Povich and Banks. 

It was reported yesterday, unfortunately, that General Hospital’s ratings among women 18-49 hit a new low.  In that age group there are 676,000 people watching; the overall viewership is 2.5 million.

That’s not the best news, but it represents a great number of people.  Critically, there are still those who like the soap format and “General Hospital” remains one of that genre’s best.

GH has great acting from the likes of Maurice Bernard, Anthony Geary, Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo, Jonathan Jackson and Kimberly McCullough.  The writing is halfway decent.  There’s old-fashioned romance.  True, the plots are flimsy, repetitive and sometimes unbelievable, but is that so bad?

If someone in charge at ABC had real chutzpah, the network would move GH to a nighttime slot and make it a weekly drama.  Such an idea would be bold and it might bring back former viewers who watched back in college but had to grow up and get jobs during the daytime.  I would be among those viewers.

At the very least ABC should save an institution like General Hospital in the daytime or otherwise.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CBS Chooses Scott Pelley; No Excitement in Choice Spells Doom for the Program

Who can picture Scott Pelley?  That’s what I thought.  Few know the man who was just named to succeed Katie Couric in the “CBS Evening News” anchor chair once occupied by the vaunted Walter Cronkite and the inimitable Dan Rather.  And Pelley’s been at CBS since 1989.

The appointment signals to me that CBS has given up on the format and is using Pelley as a placeholder until it can move to the next phase of news delivery.  That is, the news division will probably pull the program and replace it with another format or move the whole CBS News operation to cable, possibly in tandem with CNN.

I have nothing against Scott Pelley, 53, who has a good reputation at “60 Minutes.”  He’s a solid news man who cut his teeth in Texas (like Rather and Bob Schieffer) as a 15-year-old copyboy in Lubbock and as a reporter at TV stations in Lubbock and Dallas.  He has 14 Emmy's and two Peabody awards.

Here's Scott Pelley.
How many could pick him out of a line-up?
Problematic is that CBS was not creative in its choice.  To prove my point, Pelley, comparing himself to Brian Williams and his great sense of humor, told the Associated Press, “I don't do comedy, although I appreciate Brian's comedy very much."  Pretty stiff.

Here’s some copy from his official CBS bio:

“His extraordinary list of interview subjects includes: President George Bush [and] two unprecedented interviews with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.”

If that’s not boring enough, how about this?

"Pelley's team's investigation into American 'e-waste,' tracing the secret shipment of discarded toxic technology such as video monitors to overseas wastelands won six awards."

I predict that ratings will suffer from the Pelley choice, meaning that CBS’ third place position will be further solidified with him as anchor.  (Williams on NBC is generally first while Diane Sawyer on ABC is perennially second.)

The network could have helped itself by picking an anchor with a pulse.  My suggestions have been Anderson Cooper, Joe Scarborough, George Stephanopoulos, Christiane Amanpour or even someone younger like Savannah Guthrie at MSNBC who did some great reporting on the Osama bin Laden raid.

But the strategy is more than likely one of giving up and letting the “Evening News” sink for lack of strength and excitement.  Pelley starts on June 6th.  There will be little fanfare in contrast to the cacophony that accompanied Couric’s first days.  It will just be another ho-hum week with no run-up and little publicity.  Boring is as boring does.