2017 Emmy Voting

The voting has closed. As a member of the Public Relations Peer Group of the Television Academy, I was once again honored to be able to vote in certain categories for the 2017 Emmy Awards for outstanding television programming. The online viewing site for the nominated programs opened up at the beginning of August, and online voting opened up during the last two full weeks of August, closing down on the final Monday of August. Academy members were required to view all nominees in a category before voting, but for series or limited series nominees, members only needed to view one episode of the six provided of each nominee in order to vote. This flexibility allowed me the opportunity to view and vote for six categories this year, two more than I voted on and posted about last year.

For the Outstanding Reality Competition category, five of the six nominations were also nominated for last year’s Emmy Awards. Dancing with the Stars was the only nominee from last year that did not get re-nominated. Instead, RuPaul’s Drag Race was the new nominee for this year. The other nominees were American Ninja Warrior, Project Runway, Top Chef, The Voice, and The Amazing Race. My vote for this category followed the same reasoning and feeling that I had last year. RuPaul’s Drag Race, Project Runway, Top Chef, and The Voice are all judging competitions focused on specific skills, while American Ninja Warrior is a straight physical competition of speed, agility, and strength over an elevated obstacle course, but The Amazing Race, an admitted favorite of mine, provides a global cultural lesson and perspective to the viewing audience, as they watch teams of two race around the world. My vote went to The Amazing Race.

Just like last year, I decided to view and vote in the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. Four of the six nominees were repeat nominees from last year, NBC’s Saturday Night Live, IFC’s Portlandia and Documentary Now, and Comedy Central’s Drunk History. The two new nominees were TruTV’s Billy on the Street and HBO’s Tracey Ullman’s Show. The new nominees definitely provided sharp humor, but I found Billy Eichner to be overly combative at times to the unprepared folks he would stop on the street in his show, and Tracey Ullman’s skits were short, sharp, and not very deep in her show. This led me back to the repeat nominees. This season’s Comedy Central’s Drunk History was represented by an episode where Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway hit, Hamilton, relates the story of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr while drinking whiskey with a friend in his home. The video sketch of his story has two actresses play Hamilton and Burr, which adds to the humor. Clever, but not quite there. Just like last year, Documentary Now was just a touch arcane for my taste. This brought me back to Saturday Night Live, which has soared with audiences this past year with the political narrative occurring within this country, and Portlandia, a much more subtle half-hour series that I have enjoyed over the years. I must admit that Portlandia was not at the top of its game this season, but Saturday Night Live still has its own fluctuations in its live skits. I gave my vote to Portlandia.

There were only five nominees for Outstanding Television Movie, the same number as last year, and the same concerns I presented last year about the changing definition of a television movie continued with this year’s nominations. The concept of a stand-alone long form story was challenged by another episodic tale of the modern version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character in PBS’s Sherlock: Lying Detective. However, just like last year, another nominee was only an hour long, and in this case, it was an episode of an actual Netflix series, Black Mirror. The series is an anthology series, much in the style of The Outer Limits, therefore, each episode could be considered a stand-alone story, just like the episode that was nominated, San Junipero, where two seemingly different young women meet in a California beach town in the 70’s and form a relationship, except we discover that this bonding is actually occurring in a more futuristic digital space. Interesting and well done, but it is still only an hour long movie per its nomination. The other three nominees fit the standard television movie mold, but are unique in their own way. NBC’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love is a rural heartfelt holiday tale of family and church, which is sweet, but basic in its story. The other two HBO nominees are historical based, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Wizard of Lies. In the first film, Oprah Winfrey stars in the story of a researcher who searches for the history and family of the woman whose cancer cells provided the basis for years of ground breaking medical research, while recognition of her contribution was hidden by the medical community that sought to profit from her cells. Robert De Niro stars in the second film as Bernie Madoff, at the time his massive Ponzi scheme was uncovered, revealing the consequences to his family as his crimes destroyed the financial lives of others. There was power in all five nominees, but the lessons of the historical movies moved me more. In the end, the common story of Henrietta Lacks had more depth than the power story of Wall Street baron, Bernie Madoff. I voted for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

A new category which I was able to concentrate on this year was the Outstanding Limited Series category, and there were five nominees representing cable and premium cable. These five nominees are easily divided between the genres of history and mystery. Under mystery, FX’s Fargo and HBO’s Big Little Lies and The Night Of worked their magic with character, suspense, and local flavor. For Fargo, this was the third incarnation of a long form mystery set in the rural northern central plains region, and it had a complex tale of a man who hires a drug-addled criminal to rob his wealthy brother, only to find the criminal getting lost and murdering the father of a small town police chief while robbing the wrong home. The first episode was complex in itself. In Big Little Lies, a person, who is not identified in the opening episode, is murdered at a social party, and as the police interview witnesses, the viewing audience is presented with a story of three women who meet while dropping off their kids at a private elementary school and clash with another mom. This highly enticing mystery tale of high society and status stars a well-known cast with Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern. On the other end of the social scale, The Night Of deals with a young man of Middle Eastern parents who takes his father’s taxi cab in order to go to a friend’s party in mid-Manhattan, but when he gets lost, is distracted by a wild, yet depressed young woman who gets into the cab and tempts him to her apartment for a hook-up. He wakes up a few hours later and finds her dead with knife wounds, but when he runs away, he finds himself through odd coincidence into police hands, but a street lawyer may be his only hope. The intricacy of the opening episode plot with tones of cultural bias was captivating in itself. I find a well-done mystery to be truly entertaining, but a strong perspective of history is also important. FX’s FEUD: Bette and Joan presented a slice of Hollywood history with the back story of the conflict of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the fifties, but pop culture fascination is not enough to overcome a good complex mystery. However, NatGeo’s Genius, which delves into the background biography of Albert Einstein, presents the uplifting of science against the backdrop of two World Wars. Genius got my vote.

In the Outstanding Comedy Series category, six of the seven nominees were repeat nominations from last year. FX’s Atlanta was the new nominee this year in place of Transparent, but I felt that Atlanta had the same flaw that Transparent had for me last year. I just could not see it as a comedy, as its strong serious tone fit it in more as a drama, even if its episodes were only a half hour long. This brought me back to the repeat nominees, ABC’s black-ish and Modern Family, HBO’s Silicon Valley and Veep, and Netflix’s Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. With little variation, the same impressions I had in deciding my vote last year with these six series still came through this year, so even with its aging premise, I voted for the subtlety and broader perspective of Modern Family.

The last category I committed to this year, a category I felt I did not have time to view and judge last year, was Outstanding Drama Series. Of the seven nominees in the category this year, five were in their premiere season, which means they were not repeat nominations, an amazing tribute to new creativity in the industry. Another interesting point which demonstrates the direction of video viewing is that four of the seven nominees are original streaming series, available solely via Internet. I knew this was going to be an interesting category to judge. The two series that were not in their first season was AMC’s Better Call Saul and NetFlix’s House of Cards. Better Call Saul, a spin-off of the earlier celebrated series, Breaking Bad, was in its second season and definitely maintained a dark noir tone, but its slow plot structure made it difficult to pick up where the story was going. House of Cards, after several seasons, was deep into the political machinations of President Underwood’s administration, which felt very intense in the current political environment, but the current storyline appeared to be more forced. In the new series nominees, network television was only represented by NBC’s This Is Us, which had already become the most popular new series of the season with its very emotional family drama twists, but I felt that it had to stretch reality at points to gain maximum pain and heart. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale‘s apocalyptic dystopian society message had helped Hulu’s reputation in competing with leader Netflix, but its storyline message was deliberate in its dark tone. Netflix’s The Crown appealed to my interest in history, as it is based on the modern reign of Queen Elizabeth starting from her ascendance to the British throne just before World War II, but its revelations was just a bit shy of the power I felt with Netflix’s Stranger Things and HBO’s Westworld. I had become intrigued by Stranger Things with the positive feedback it had gotten when it first was released, so I took advantage of bingeing the entire season during the nomination period around June. I was amazed at the blending of childhood bonding and coming of age themes within a sci-fi cross-dimensional monster scare-fest buttressed by a government science lab conspiracy set in the retro historical time of the 1980’s when phones had to actually be dialed to make a call. Perhaps it was a sign that while I was watching the episode where Winona Ryder’s character has strung up lights to try and communicate with her missing son and the lights began to flicker, my power went out in my home for a half hour. However, when I watched the first episode of Westworld on the Academy online platform, the series reboot of the classic 70’s movie intrigued me with its more in-depth mystery and character structure of human-design artificial intelligence robots in a Wild West story-immersion theme park starting to uncover independent consciences within their programming, so I committed to watching the other five episodes provided. After viewing these episodes, I was torn for a moment between Stranger Things and Westworld, but I gave the edge to Stranger Things and put in my vote.

Last year, none of my votes wound up for the eventual recipient of the Emmy, but maybe this year, some of my reasoning will match with my fellow academy members. I will see when the Emmy Awards are given on Sunday, September 17.

Update: As announced during the Emmy Awards that aired on CBS on Sunday, September 17, the shows I voted for in all six categories did not wind up receiving the Emmy. The Voice repeated in receiving the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, Saturday Night Live received the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, Black Mirror: San Junipero received the Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, Big Little Lies received the Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series, Veep repeated in receiving the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, and The Handmaid’s Tale received the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. I applaud the recipients of this year’s Emmys.

 

2016 Emmy Voting

In one of my earliest posts, I wrote about the honor of being a member of the Public Relations Peer Group in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which allowed me to vote to nominate programs for the Annual Emmy Awards. At the time of my posting, the final actual vote for an Emmy category was held by volunteer judging panels who had time to view all of the representative series episodes or movies of the nominated entrants at the Academy campus, which would demonstrate that their vote was fairly given. Since that post a couple of years ago, a few things have changed. First, the Academy simplified its name to just the Television Academy, and then, thanks to streaming technology, the final voting on the nominated programs was opened up to all eligible Academy members. To vote for a category open to a member’s peer group, the member could sign in to the Academy website, view all of the provided representative episodes within a category, and then vote for the program in that category that the member felt deserved the Emmy. Of course, it is impossible for any member to view and vote in all of the representative programming in all categories eligible in his/her peer group during the two week voting period, so each member must decide which categories to commit to judging fairly. Last year, which was the first year for this voting procedure, the final voting period occurred during my relocation to Colorado, so I was only able to view and vote for one of the reality categories. This year, having more time available, I decided to commit to four categories: Outstanding Reality Competition Series, Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, Outstanding Television Movie, and Outstanding Comedy Series.

The six nominees for Outstanding Reality Competition Series represents broadcast network and basic cable programming. Four of the nominees deal with creative competition where the ultimate winner is determined by judges and/or the program audience. For Dancing with the Stars, the competitors are celebrities, but the other three creative competitions, Project Runway, Top Chef, and The Voice, give talented hopefuls a chance to prove they belong with the best. Top Chef has a slight disadvantage with its viewing audience, as the viewer is unable to second guess the judges since cooking depends upon smell and taste, while dancing, singing, and fashion mainly requires sight and sound, the basic framework of television. The fifth nominee, American Ninja, is a straightforward competition of physical strength, agility, and speed, as the competitors must navigate a mainly elevated obstacle course. However, these five nominees still cannot match the global cultural lessons and perspective that the viewer receives while watching competing teams face physical and mental challenges within different countries in a race around the world during a season of The Amazing Race. It has been a favorite of mine for over a decade, and it did not disappoint this season. The Amazing Race received my vote.

Network television was only represented once in the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, but that nominee, Saturday Night Live, definitely has history and longevity over its fellow nominees. Yet, this season’s cast is not as known as earlier casts which have introduced several comedic celebrities over SNL’s long past. Still, a few of this season’s cast members have begun to gain a reputation beyond the show. The other nominees come from two basic cable channels, Comedy Central and IFC. The Comedy Central nominees are Drunk History, Inside Amy Schumer, and Key & Peele. The comedy from these nominees is very brash in its humor. For me, while I respect and enjoy this wild style of humor, I do prefer more subtlety to my comedy, which is why I was a little more impressed by IFC’s Documentary Now! and Portlandia, both of which are or were executive produced by Lorne Michaels, SNL’s longtime executive producer. Documentary Now! is a touch too arcane, but I have come to appreciate the subtle humor of Portlandia, which got my vote this year.

There were only five nominees for Outstanding Television Movie, and they demonstrated the evolutionary changes that seem to be occurring with audiences. For me, a television movie was often a stand-alone fictional or historical long form film that would air during a single time period. However, PBS’s Sherlock: The Abominable Bride and BBC America’s Luther were more like a long form episode in a series, requiring the movie to provide a short recap at the start of the movie. Premium cable was represented by HBO’s two historical drama nominees, All The Way, the story of Lyndon B Johnson’s first year of presidency following the assassination of JFK as he pushed the Civil Rights Bill through Congress prior to the next election, and Confirmation, the story of the Anita Hill testimony during the Clarence Thomas nomination hearings for the Supreme Court. However, what truly surprised me in a strange way was the fifth nominee, A Very Murray Christmas from NetFlix. Even though it represented how original streaming video available to the viewer whenever it was requested was gaining recognition in the creative industry, this “movie” was less than an hour long and was mainly Bill Murray and other celebrities singing Christmas songs within only a slight pretext of a story. To me, this was a holiday special which had no similarity to the concept of what a movie should be defined as. It seemed to indicate that original television movies was fading from the creative focus of the industry. I focused on the two historical, non-serialized movies from HBO and selected Confirmation as my choice for this category.

As a major category, Outstanding Comedy Series had the most nominees of the categories to which I had committed, seven in all. In addition, each nominee had six representative episodes on the viewing platform, meaning I would need to commit two to three hours of viewing per nominee before voting. The Comedy Series category truly demonstrated the growth of original streaming video to the television environment as NetFlix and Amazon had produced three of the seven nominees: Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Transparent. Considering that HBO had produced two of the other nominees with Silicon Valley and Veep, broadcast network was only represented by two ABC shows, blackish and Modern Family. It was halfway through viewing the episodes that I found out I only needed to view one episode per nominee to vote, but I was glad I committed to viewing all of the available episodes as one episode does not always provide a true understanding of the series as a whole. For instance, in NetFlix’s Master of None, the first episode provided seemed to suggest the series would focus on two first generation American friends navigating the culture clash between the expectations of their immigrant Indian and Chinese parents and the American culture these friends grew up in. However, the other episodes only focused on the one friend, played by Aziz Ansari, trying to make it as an actor while dealing with racial stereotypes and multi-cultural romantic relationships. One episode was not enough to represent the broad range of themes and issues the series dealt with. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt also dealt with many themes crossing class, race, and sexual identity issues over its many episodes. This gave great respectability to these series; however, the brashness of the main characters clashed with the themes at times. Amazon’s Transparent, a series about a man who surprises his wife and three adult children by turning transgender, has also gained recognition by dealing with a modern subject of equality and sexuality, especially with good production values and excellent acting, even as the streaming series is not bound by language and nudity oversight. However, Transparent has one major flaw in this category. It is not really a comedy, but rather an empathetic family drama filled with true angst and reflection. For HBO, Veep is well produced in satirizing the hypocrisy and manipulation of Washington politics, but the political plots are too unrealistically stretched out. Silicon Valley also played the fun and futility of nerdy characters fighting the twisted machinations of the cyber-tech industry well enough, but the concepts seemed to be a little too difficult for a basic viewing audience to understand. This brought me back to the basic network series, blackish and Modern Family. In blackish, ABC is trying to demonstrate true diversity by focusing on a modern middle-class black family; however, with episodes focusing on gun ownership, the use of the “N” word, and sharp discussion of the Black Lives Matter protests, I felt the same brashness clash I observed in the NetFlix series. Modern Family is the veteran of the nominees and it is showing its age. However, it is still able to touch on matters of diversity and present its clash of ideas with a bit more subtlety for the viewer. This is why I voted for Modern Family in this category.

Well, will my fellow Academy members who committed to these categories share my opinion? We will see in a couple of weeks when the Emmy Awards are televised. I am honored to have provided my voice and commitment to the process.

Update: As announced during the Emmy Awards that aired on ABC on Sunday, September 18, my choices in all four categories were not in the majority. The Voice received the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, Key & Peele received the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride received the Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, and Veep received the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. I applaud the recipients of this year’s Emmys.

Tis the Season for Christmas Movies

A couple of holiday seasons ago, shortly after I created my website, I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Gathering. I started out the post by writing that I set aside time for all of the new holiday movies that run on a few cable channels. Since then, the number of holiday movies have expanded tremendously over a number of channels, as LMN, UP, ION and AMC has joined Lifetime, Hallmark and ABC Family in presenting a new Christmas treat once a week. In fact, Hallmark really gets into the spirit as it has been running holiday movies from previous years 24 hours a day with two new movies every weekend since the beginning of November. It is almost impossible to take them all in. After bingeing a few days over the Thanksgiving weekend, I began to start categorizing the holiday films in order to determine what makes a good Christmas film and which ones were missing the cut.

Holiday movies basically end well with a positive message and a good feeling. The biggest group of Christmas movies find this message through myth and fantasy magic. Many of this group works with the myth of Santa Claus, the jolly old saint who brings gifts to all of the good boys and girls on Christmas Eve. Kids are told the basics – Santa lives at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus and elves making toys leading up to Christmas. However, do not let those true believers watch too many of these Santa movies as it will only confuse them. After all, is Santa really hundreds of years old or is the job passed from father to son – or even daughter? Is the North Pole really at the top of the world in a rustic village or is it in Canada or Alaska with a modern day factory ramping up production? The best idea is to choose one good Santa movie to share with the children and enjoy the various other creative incarnations amongst the positive older fantasy lovers.

The next group of fantasy holiday films are the “angel” films. In this case, an angelic figure appears to help a main character find redemption or two worthy individuals to find true love with each other. Sometimes, this guiding figure could be Santa or one of his elves, but since the focus is on helping another individual during the season, I do not count these movies in the Santa group. Santa is only a supporting role in the story. Often the magic is gentle, giving a comic tone to the movie, but there are a few that are more dramatic and sometimes darker until the redemption comes. Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is probably the first and best of this dramatic type, which is why the original story has been filmed several times for movies and TV, and then re-imagined, modernized, and sometimes twisted with several versions with Scrooges of different cultures, careers and genders. A key component in A Christmas Carol is the element of time travel, which has become a common element in many other current Christmas films. Sometimes the character needing redemption is magically sent back in time and given a chance to correct a regret, and sometimes the character is placed into a possible future to prepare him or her for an upcoming defining decision, but the newest time twist is having the character relive the same day over and over, ala Groundhog Day, until he or she learns the right way to live the day and the rest of his or her life. It is only in these films where we see the appearance of snowfall as a moment of joyous redemption and not a dreaded moment of foul weather.

The next group of Christmas movies are the non-magical set, a more realistic storytelling that still embodies the redemptive and giving ideal of the holiday. As with all movies, these range from the dramatic to the comedic. The dramatic tales usually centers on a character or set of characters who must face a challenge to reconnect and redeem themselves, like my favorite, The Gathering, or on a character or family facing hardship who becomes the object of a community coming together to help them. The comedic movies generally are a nostalgic slapstick view of a family gathering or a light romantic comedy which makes Christmas into the second most romantic holiday after Valentine’s Day. A comedy with the interactive blending of multiple stories, like the modern classic Love Actually, is able to touch the Christmas spirit in many enjoyable ways.

Finally, I have a small set of films where Christmas is merely a backdrop or prop for a basic story. Many are romantic comedies like The Sure Thing, While You Were Sleeping, or even the best picture classic, The Apartment; however, even an action adventure film can find a little Christmas mojo. My prime example is Die Hard, which takes place during a Christmas party in a near empty skyscraper. In the end, a little Christmas tape saves the day.

The Careers of Fictional Characters

Since I wrote in my last post about the importance of character in television series, I have been thinking about how critics have viewed characters on television in general. As I thought about it, a particular criticism which has periodically cropped up in broad opinion pieces by TV critics throughout the history of television kept floating up in my mind – why do many main characters seem to have the same types of careers, even though these jobs represent a small portion of the general population? I am sure many will recognize the questioning commentary that most TV series and their main characters seem to be lawyers, doctors, police officers, or private eyes, when the majority of the general population has jobs as construction workers, factory workers, sales clerks, or farm workers. The general critical discussion tends to tilt more to bemoaning the unrealistic impression that lawyers, doctors, police officers and private eyes are more important to society, thereby not giving enough credit to the value of these other clerical or labor intensive jobs to society and civilization. However, in considering this position, especially as it pertains to creating characters when writing, what I realized is despite the admirable concept of seeking a more equal view of all individuals, the art of storytelling and mythology throughout the history of mankind has focused on heroic characters that broadly lead or challenge society in general. From the beginning, the early myths, legends and fairy tales were stories of gods, kings, wizards and warriors.

Classic storytelling is built around conflict or challenge – not the everyday challenge of handling the daily grind of life, but the broad challenge of facing a major conflict or struggle. The sagas and myths explained why nature acted the way it did, gave praise to the triumphs of a tribe or civilization, and sought solutions to battle the monsters around us. It was the gods who created the world and the rules under which nature worked for and against man. It took kings to lead armies against enemies, to mediate among opposing forces, and to protect societies from disorder. It took strong warriors to protect lesser men from evil and destructive forces and to boldly explore new lands beyond the horizon. It took powerful wizards to create and project major spells to ward off evil monsters and deadly diseases. For ancient and medieval civilizations, these leaders guided and defended the common members of society during important challenges of war, growth, exploration, and death. With the advances in scientific knowledge and the rise of more democratic and republican governments within a more interconnected global culture, these characters may have faded from the modern story, but their roles have not. Within modern society, lawyers, doctors, police officers and private eyes take on these roles at the local level.

When a disagreement escalates between two parties, police officers would be necessary to help maintain order and try to resolve the issue peacefully, while lawyers become mediators seeking to define the rules around which the parties must operate peacefully. A lawyer can also represent a strong defender for the common client against corrupt forces, while a private detective can be the solitary hero uncovering the truth against an evil army of lies. Doctors cast modern spells of medical knowledge against disease, injury and death and explore the continuing mysteries and horizons of life. It is very easy to see that these jobs represent the mediators, explorers and defenders of society at times of conflict or challenge, so in a way, it is understandable that the somewhat heroic (or anti-heroic) major characters of television and movies would more likely take on these professions over the more common careers that maintain the steady drumbeat of life.

A New Television Season – The Importance of Character

The Fall Television Season is upon us, so I once again attended the Television Academy panel of top television critics previewing the new season. This year, the panel of Robert Bianco of USA Today, Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter, Brian Lowry of Variety, Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times and Matt Roush of TV Guide with moderator Cynthia Littleton, Editor of Variety, was held at the Paramount Theatre on the Paramount Studio Lot in Hollywood and the conversation was lively. It started off with the opening question of what was good and what was bad among the new shows which led Matt Roush to comment, “I never thought I would ever say it, but the network with the best new shows is the CW with Jane the Virgin and Flash.” However, because the CW has such a light schedule with the fewest number of premiering shows, the comment was really directed at showing just how weak this year’s batch of new shows across the broadcast and cable networks were. The discussion did ramble on a bit about the growth of fresh original shows from new cable (WGN) and digital (Netflix, Amazon) outlets during the summer which has created a more continuous year-round season, but the topic soon focused on an important feature of a good television series that the critics felt networks had lost sight of – characters and their relationship to the audience.

Although character is important in all storytelling, the presentation of character is more important within the format of a continuing series on television. In a movie, the audience is quickly introduced to characters that become involved in a conflict. In the course of a few hours, these characters must address this conflict to a resolution for the audience, so the audience is given character traits in shorthand so they can quickly associate good guy/bad guy personas to the characters and move into the plot flow. Once the audience leaves the theater or turns off the television, there is no consideration about coming back and hanging out with the characters they saw in the movie. However, a television series does need its audience to bond with the main characters, so they will want to come back and visit with them again. The shorthand introductions to the main characters in a series premiere are more like first impressions that hopefully will draw the audience to want to learn more about these characters as they face a series or continuing story of life challenges. An engaged audience realizes that there are nuanced undertones to the characters and feels compelled to return regularly to see what is going on with their friends, to rejoice with their triumphs and sympathize with their setbacks, whether it is with laughter or drama. It is for this very reason that television series has been known more for being a writer’s medium than a director’s medium. It is also why television series work better with ensemble casts as it is easier to enjoy time with a group of friends.

So, why do these critics feel the networks have lost sight of this in the new season? Judging by the issues they noticed and expounded upon in the new season pilots, I sense the increased competition of more original programming over more networks throughout the year has caused network executives and show runners to use more shorthand storytelling, plot twists and visual creativity to gain the audiences’ initial attention, but this is at the expense of developing the characters to the point where the audience will want to come back and share time with their new friends. In a way, network executives have forgotten that television was the original social media site.

Primetime Emmy Nominations 2014

It’s that time of year again when Television Academy members like me vote for their nominations for the 2014 Primetime Emmy Awards. There have been a few changes since I wrote about the nomination process in a blog post last year. First, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced that it will now be called simply the Television Academy. All members have now received new membership cards with the new moniker and logo. The reasoning behind the official name change is to align itself with the basic perception of the general public, which sees the Emmy Awards as being presented by the Television Academy, and bring the organization out of the “ivory tower” that the title Academy of Television Arts and Sciences seems to present. Second, it was announced that voting will now be online. No more number bubbles to fill in on a paper ballot to be mailed off to Ernst & Young in a green envelope. The twenty-first century had arrived and academy members will be going to their computers to vote, except for those members who specifically requested to receive a paper ballot. However, I am ready to go online and put in my nominations – after I view a few more DVDs.

In last year’s blog post, I wrote about the general process of the nomination vote and my personal preferences in considering what programming should be considered for an Emmy. I feel I do not need to repeat myself, so I refer interested readers to go back to this post for those general thoughts. I am going to just write about a few highlights from this year’s programming.

In comedy, my favorite series, The Big Bang Theory, had another good year. There were still many episodes that were written more as fillers to help extend the life of the series, now that it has been given an additional three year commitment by CBS. However, the characters continued to grow as Penny and Leonard’s relationship solidified and condescending Sheldon faced a crisis in faith over his genius abilities as the current season ended. IFC’s Portlandia was the only other series I sought out during the season, but its skit based premise allows me watch it irregularly. It was when the DVDs began to arrive that I finally had a chance to check out NetFlix’s Orange is the New Black. The series is about a woman who agrees to plead guilty for a ten year old drug smuggling offense and accept a short sentence in a women’s penitentiary, but she discovers life with her fellow cellmates was not what she expected it to be. The comedy is low key as the naive main character begins to learn how to adapt to her off-kilter fellow inmates and the hands-off prison staff. I’ve watched two episodes and do not feel in a hurry to watch more. However, these first episodes may be spending more time setting up characters and premise and it will require more episodes to be viewed to get into the rhythm of the series, something that NetFlix’s batch viewing model may be dependent on. I have a few more days to consider a few more episodes.

There appears to be more series of interest to consider in the drama category. I am already enthralled by the second season of BBC America’s cult clone series, Orphan Black, as Sarah and her clone sisters continue to unravel the secrets of their existence while trying to defend themselves from the evil corporation that created them and the extremist cult out to erase their existence. For me, character, redemption and growth is important, and Tatiana Maslany is amazing in displaying these aspects in not just one role but in six – no seven – oh, who’s counting, since she is handling the multiple roles beautifully. A new series I was able to check out from the DVDs has been Showtime’s Masters of Sex, the somewhat true story of how Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson came together to conduct their seminal research on human sexuality. It was interesting to see how the characters try and is sometimes unable to tamper their own humanity while trying to dispassionately research that very humanity in their subjects. Definitely a series to consider.

Reality has now been split from two categories to three: reality competition, reality structured and reality unstructured. Reality competition is easy to understand; individuals or teams in competition within a structured  realistic environment. My favorite is still The Amazing Race. Nothing like the entire globe as the competition’s environment. The difference between reality structured and reality unstructured is basically the subject matter and how it is filmed. In a way, reality structured is a planned investigation or experiment within a realistic situation or environment. Mythbusters on the Science Channel represents a fun version of a reality structured series, while TNT’s Cold Justice, which has two professional investigators trying to solve cold cases, shows a more serious version of this reality genre. The reality unstructured category represents a docu-series where a film crew follows an individual, group or family within their everyday life or work. This is the one type of programming I have yet to find any love for. Sorry, Duck Dynasty.

Well, I have a few more days to check out a few more DVDs. If I have time, I think I’ll check out FX’s Fargo and HBO’s True Detective. It has been an interesting year in television.

The Novelization of Television

Last week, I found time to attend an Academy of Television Arts and Sciences event which had television critics Robert Bianco of USA Today, Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter, Brian Lowry of Variety, Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times and Matt Roush of TV Guide on a panel moderated by Variety editor Cynthia Littleton, giving the audience a critic’s preview of the Fall TV Season. Even though the discussion did eventually get around to what new shows they liked, what new shows they felt would crash and burn and what new shows will become cult darlings, the initial question and somewhat underlying theme of the evening was about the changes within the business of television, which was changing the storytelling of television and its relationship with the audience. In essence, changing technology was providing the audience with the means to easily see what they wanted to watch when they wanted to watch, creating a desire to see complicated storytelling within a closed format leading to a resolution. I see this evolution as the novelization of television.

When television began broadcasting to the public, the public had to adjust their viewing time to the networks’ schedules. Viewers were enticed to return to watch new episodes as an endless series of short tales with favorite characters until the characters or stories became too familiar. Except in a few instances, the series would be cancelled without a final resolution or sendoff to the characters. It was the business of television. Ninety minute movies, stretched out to two hours by added commercial breaks, was the longest form of individual storytelling available within the broadcast schedule. Then, networks discovered that viewers were willing to see more complicated storytelling within a limited number of episodes over a shorter period of time. This was a golden age for miniseries, led by Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. However, the economics of schedule television could not support an over-abundance of miniseries and the format faded. However, cable television, VHS tape recorders and the digital revolution of DVDs, DVRs and smartphones were all evolutionary steps that would move audiences away from scheduled television, which brings us to what Robert Bianco, Tim Goodman, Brian Lowry, Mary McNamara and Matt Roush were observing now.

Per the critics, the defining series for the current evolution of how today’s audiences consume television was Netflix’s House of Cards which released all 13 episodes to its subscribers at the same time. This allowed the Netflix audience to become like the reader who stays up all night to finish a good book. The audience was able to binge view the entire series and walk away satisfied at reaching the somewhat season-ending resolution. However, one of the critics related that he was hearing from friends who were DVR’ing full seasons of other current cable series, which have been running a single complex storyline within a shorter span of ten to twelve episodes, and then binge-viewing them in one day to get that same feeling of reading an exciting book in one sitting. For viewers of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, each episode was like a chapter in the overall tale that needed to be viewed as a whole.

In addition, the critics noted that producers were gaining more control in creatively demanding a final season within a short span of years in order to give a complex premise a final satisfying resolution to loyal viewers. (Some credit was given to ABC’s Lost for this, although one critic claimed it was a desperation stand by the producers against the network for a series that had passed its prime.) Even for viewers willing to view the chapters weekly, the ability to follow a set of inter-connected characters through a period of conflict to its end and then move on to another satisfying story within a reasonable few months was much more preferable to being dragged along a nearly endless flow of cliff-hangers.

Finally, technology in the form of computer tablets and smartphones has freed the television viewer from the home. The audience can binge view the story while riding the bus, enjoying a coffee in the local café or getting that suntan at the beach, right next to the person reading an exciting novel. Soon, the viewer like the reader will have total control – when, where and how – over scheduling the enjoyment of a good complex story with fascinating characters. For now, the critics are trying to decide how to review shows going forth – one episode at a time or a full season in whole like a book. The evolution continues.