Saving Your Favourite TV Shows: Too late for Terra Nova?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th March 2012.

Fans of the Network Ten family sci-fi series, Terra Nova, were disappointed to hear last week that the dino-drama had been cancelled after one season. Filmed in Queensland, the show was more expensive than your usual one hour drama with an average episode budget of US$4 million. Despite having Steven Spielberg, who mined similar storyline ground in Jurassic Park, attached as Executive Producer, Terra Nova drew ordinary ratings.

A campaign to save the show was launched in December by its small but loyal fan base, spurred on by the series’ lead actor, Jason O’Mara. Fans were encouraged to send plastic toy dinosaurs to FOX Entertainment President, Kevin Reilly. Unfortunately, this was not enough to save Terra Nova, however, there is a slim chance that the show may be picked up by another network or distributor. The current internet rumour is that Netflix, a major player in the US on-demand streaming and DVD rental by mail industry, may give the show a reprieve.

There are still a couple of episodes yet to air in Australia. Considering the axe has fallen (for now), expect to see them late at night between Proactiv ads and Flavorwave infomercials.

This isn’t the first time that fans have banded together to try to save their favourite shows from cancellation. Here are my favourite success stories.

Way back in 2000, the success of The X-Files resulted in several short lived shows involving aliens. Roswell, a teen drama revolving around a trio of stranded alien siblings, was facing the chop after its first low rating season. Starring Katherine Heigl, before she became really annoying, Roswell was granted a second and third season after fans banded together to send 3000 bottles of Tabasco sauce to WB Network executives. This was the first time that the internet had brought fans together to save a TV show.

A few years later, a post-apocalyptic action drama series entitled Jericho premiered in 2007. Starring Skeet Ulrich of Scream fame, the show focuses on the township of Jericho, Kansas following a nuclear attack on the US. Low ratings led to the series’ cancellation after one season but outraged fans had different plans. Inspired by a line of dialogue from the final episode where a character repeats a famous quote from a military general in the Battle of the Bulge (“Nuts!), fans rallied online and sent over 20 tonnes of nuts to the offices of CBS.

Jericho was miraculously renewed for a second season, however, the show’s ratings continued to be peanuts, so to speak, and it limped on for another seven episodes before being put out of its misery. A third season appeared in comic book form.

Before the internet and email, people used to write on pieces of paper and physically send them to each other as “letters”. As crazy as that sounds, a letter writing campaign by fans saved a little known science fiction series known as Star Trek.

After two seasons of exploring the universe in a starship made of plywood, Kirk and Spock were about to be cut loose to go where many failed shows had gone before. A fervent letter writing campaign convinced NBC to green light a third series, albeit with a lower budget. This third season of Star Trek ultimately failed in the ratings and led to its cancellation, however, it also brought the total number of episodes to 79, which allowed the series to be syndicated. It was the continuous repeats of Star Trek in syndication which led to its immense popularity amongst nerds everywhere.

Terra Nova may be dead as a dinosaur but fans of Ringer, Gossip Girl, The Mentalist and all three CSI incarnations should start planning their internet campaigns now. Ratings for these shows are down and the axe is being sharpened. Start looking for quirky things to post to your friendly TV network executives today.

Published in: on March 26, 2012 at 07:42  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Farewell Whitney, Dr House… Hello Steve Winwood

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14th February 2012.

This past weekend brought the news of Whitney Houston’s untimely passing. When Michael Jackson died on June 25 2009, the pay TV music stations ceased their regular programming and switched to non-stop Jackson videos. This did not happen with Houston. I’m not particularly surprised. Although arguably as big in the late eighties as The King of Pop, Houston’s days as a viable creative or commercial act were long behind her.

I only own one Whitney Houston CD. I bought it in 1987 with the money I had saved from collecting aluminium cans. I lost interest soon after. In Whitney, that is, not in collecting cans for money. Most of her fans from the eighties probably did the same.

It is always sad when drugs claim a life, regardless of whether they were famous. In Whitney’s case, it is such a waste. The knockout voice had departed but she had real potential for a comeback as an actress. Although I don’t care for the film or Kevin Costner, Houston was showed charisma in The Bodyguard.

 

Why is it that every time I go to the new supermarket, they are playing Steve Winwood’s 1986 hit Higher Love? I hadn’t heard it for years, and then in the space of a few days, twice I’ve found myself singing along as I wander the aisles. They’ve obviously done their research. Somewhere in the world, lab technicians in white coats are testing the effects of Huey Lewis on the shopping habits of rats. Well, the Winwood certainly made me increase my expenditure. Unfortunately for the supermarket, I just bought my usual stuff and then went home to order a copy of Steve Winwood’s greatest hits CD online.

 

Fox announced the cancellation of House last week. After eight seasons, this current one will be the last. As far as I’m concerned, the show had flatlined years ago. Recent ratings would suggest that most people agree with me. There is no doubt that the acerbic Gregory House will go down as one of the great TV doctors of all time, brought to life by the brilliant Hugh Laurie (although someone should have taught him to hold his walking stick in the correct hand).

Although it initially made for fascinating viewing, House was very formulaic. If you were one of Doctor House’s patients, you might want to get another physician. You are guaranteed to get a little better, then much worse, then a little better, then much, much worse, whilst House’s team of medicos misdiagnose you over and over again on a clear perspex whiteboard. Eventually, you’ll survive but only after lots of convulsing.

As ratings began to slide, the producers and writers resorted to more outlandish and silly storylines. Dr House goes to the mental asylum. He finally gets together with Cuddy but they hit turbulence which results in House driving his car into her, er, house. He goes to goal and jumps over a shark whilst waterskiing.

If there are two things I’ve learnt from watching TV, it’s to leave town when Jessica Fletcher arrives, because someone is going to die, and to avoid being admitted to Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (House) or Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital (Grey’s Anatomy). The medical staff are incompetent or way too distracted with each other to keep you alive. Try Eastman Medical Center and ask for Doogie Howser, M.D.

Rewind Festival Wound Up

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th October 2011.

A few weeks ago I penned a column about the upcoming Rewind Festival, a two day music festival featuring an array of eighties acts planned for this coming weekend. Last Monday came the announcement that the event had been cancelled. There’s no doubt that this decision was due to poor ticket sales. This is bad news for the few who had purchased tickets and now have to scramble for refunds, and whilst the notion of a retro festival appears attractive, there are plenty of reasons why Rewind was doomed to fail from the beginning.

Firstly, the planned event location was too far from a major city to be viable. Bluescope Field in Kembla Range, near Wollongong, may have been an acceptable site for campers, however, for day ticket holders, who would have been the majority of attendees, the distance to travel was too great.

As the event date drew closer, an attempt was made to shift Rewind to the Hordern Pavilion. This is a good indication of how much the promoter’s expectations fell as ticket sales stalled. Bluescope Field has a maximum capacity of 30000 compared to the Hordern’s 5500. A promotion for two tickets for the price of one a month before the event was another ominous sign that sales were not going well.

I decided not to attend the festival as I didn’t fancy camping out in the elements, particularly if rain turned the grounds to mud. Perhaps my thoughts were indicative of the majority of Rewind’s demographic, Generation X’ers. I now find it difficult to stand through a regular two hour or so concert. There’s no way my knees would make it through a two day festival. Bring on the comfortable chairs and hotel rooms.

I also think that the night time is the right time for concerts. Darkness adds a ferly atmosphere to a gig and many of the Rewind acts were unfortunately scheduled to play under the sun.

The Rewind Festival has previously been a success in the UK. Of course, they have a much bigger population and a longer tradition of music festivals. In Australia, the festival scene is highly competitive. With The Big Day Out, Homebake and Splendour by the Grass soaking up the majority of festival dollars, smaller festivals have to virtually sell out to be feasible.

A strong Aussie dollar compared to the greenback also makes Australia more attractive to overseas based acts. Defunct eighties and nineties performers are reforming to cash in on an increasing demand and interest in all things retro. The successful Day on the Green franchise proves that Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers will pay top dollar to see quality retro acts alongside contemporary artists. Of course, most of these retro performers have a deep back catalogue of hits, which is more than could be said for most of the artists on the Rewind Festival bill.

The rise of MTV in the eighties led to many iconic music videos. These classic clips have been on constant rotation on TV ever since. Why would I want to see a much older Bananarama lip synch their way on a sparse stage through their biggest hit, Venus, when I can watch a much spunkier and younger group from the comfort of my living room?

So another music festival bites the dust. It’s a pity really. I would suggest to the promoters that an arena tour of the capital cities with a rapid fire format similar to the Countdown Spectacular concerts in 2006/07 would have been a much better choice.

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 01:26  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Charlie Sheen: the ultimate method actor?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 1st March 2011.

With the Oscars and Razzies over for another year, Hollywood can once again turn its focus back to doing what it does best. That’s right, trying to deal with Charlie Sheen’s antics.

This past week, it was announced that US Network CBS and Warner Bros. Television will discontinue the production of hit sitcom, Two and a Half Men, following the many reports of Sheen’s (mis)adventures with alcohol, drugs and porn stars as well as numerous public remarks made by the star about the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre.

Whilst the word “cancelled” has been bandied about in the media, it appears that the production of the current season, its eighth, has been shut down, not the show itself. So as far as we know, there might be more. Of course, several hatchets will need to be buried before season nine can even be contemplated.

I’m not sure if anyone would even notice if the show ended anyway. Channel Nine should be renamed the “Two and a Half Men Network (now with less Ben Elton)”. There must be an endless supply of tapes hidden away in the vaults considering that there seems to be brand new episodes premiering every other night, alternating with The Big Bang Theory, another show from the spring that never seems to run dry.

The show has been running for so long that the “half” in the title is actually now referring to seventeen year old actor Angus T. Jones. Perhaps they should just rename the show to Three Men and be over with it. Or if Sheen doesn’t return, drop it to Two Men.

Another solution to save the show and keep the title would be to kill off Sheen’s character, Charlie Harper, and bring in a new younger kid. If you go with a really young actor, you could even rename the show Two Men and a Baby. Add a female midget and you could even go with Two Men and a Little Lady. Keep the girl, add a pizza place and… I’m sure you get it.

Maybe Sheen’s role could be recast. In Roseanne, the original Becky, Lecy Goranson, was replaced by Sarah Chalke from Scrubs for two seasons, who was herself replaced by Goranson again for one season, only to replaced for the final season by Chalke again. I’m sure nobody noticed.

Of course, in order to prevent any further complications, a stable and reliable actor should replace Sheen. My suggestions would be someone like Mickey Rourke, Robert Downey Jr. or Carrie Fisher.

I think what people fail to realise is that the character of Charlie Harper in Two and a Half Men is a hedonistic womaniser and alcoholic. Surely this is just a case of the ultimate method actor? Charlie Sheen might be difficult to work with, but he sure does his research. Is this any different to Dustin Hoffman staying up all night in order to look exhausted for a scene in Marathon Man?

So what if Charlie Sheen likes to live his character. At least he’s not playing a vampire. Perhaps the character of Charlie Harper was based on Sheen in the first place. If so, the show’s producers can hardly complain.

Regardless, Charlie Sheen certainly makes the boring world of Hollywood more interesting. As long as he doesn’t go the way of Anna Nicole Smith, River Phoenix or Chris Farley, perhaps we should just accept this as a case of art imitating life imitating art.

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 12:55  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

R.I.P. Jack Bauer

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th March 2010.

This weekend has seen the announcements that two very popular television shows will meet their demise in 2010. Both 24 and The Bill will cease production after long and successful runs. Featuring very different styles of crime fighting, these shows will be missed by Australian audiences. The Bill is somewhat of an institution in the UK, having been in production for an amazing 27 years. It has also been a high rating staple of ABC TV programming. Set in the fictional Sun Hill police station, located somewhere in East London, this procedural drama focuses on the lives of one shift of police officers. Over 2300 episodes, almost no subject has been left untouched by The Bill. From corrupt politicians to gay officers, from violent crime to the mandatory police station fire, the Canley Borough Operational Command Unit is certainly an eventful place to work, although the chances of a police officer making it to retirement alive is rather slim, with many characters biting the dust over the show’s 26 seasons. Once commanding UK audiences of 7 million viewers in 2002, ratings have now slumped to half those numbers in recent years. This has prompted broadcaster ITV to put The Bill out to pasture. Iconic hero Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) burst onto our screens in 2001. 24 was revolutionary in its real time approach to television storytelling. Told in 24 episodes of 44 minutes each (the fight against terrorism still needs commercials), each season followed the events of a single day as the US came under attack from terrorists. A product of 9/11, Jack and the Counter Terrorist Unit controversially used torture and endorsed sacrificing lives for the greater good of the American people. Over 8 eventful days (or seasons), Jack has fought off Middle Eastern terrorists, Mexican drug cartels and American conspirators to prevent nuclear bombs, deadly virus attacks and Presidential assassinations, respectively. Don’t forget that he also overcame heroin addiction in season two. The real time storytelling style of 24 worked well in a weekly episodic format. Watching several episodes together however, often revealed huge plot holes and lapses in logic. No-one seemed to eat, drink or go to the toilet during the 24 hour period either. Maybe they did this in the commercial breaks, just like the audience. Similarly to The Bill, which English actors saw as a rite of passage due to its high turnover of performers, 24 has also provided employment for almost every ethnic looking actor in Hollywood. The only catch, you almost certainly needed to play a terrorist. I’m sure that despite any reservations from actors regarding ethnic stereotyping, the need to eat and pay rent won out each time. So the fictional towns of Sun Hill and Los Angeles will soon be without their crime fighters and law enforcement agencies. Loyal fans and viewers at least can take some solace in the fact that the cancellation announcement has occurred early enough for the producers of The Bill and 24 to give their shows a proper send-off. There is nothing worse than a final episode that ends in a cliffhanger.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 10:49  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,