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“The future of network TV is at stake here… and right now, it doesn’t look good.”
–Ben Cheviot, Chairman of the Board of Network 23, on Max Headroom

Within most science fiction there is a grain of truth, and it seems that it is often predictive of our future.  Portraying that future on television is one of the more difficult things to do, since it actually has to be shown in some way, and not just imagined with words in a literary sense.  Portraying the future OF television is even trickier, and yet one particular show did this with style, strangeness, and one of most unique title characters in the history of the medium.  Far ahead of its time (and yet according to the show only “20 minutes into the future”) was Max Headroom.

Edison, Theora, and Max

On the 1987-88 ABC series, the character of Max Headroom was a computerized version of television reporter Edison Carter (Matt Frewer, playing both parts).  While chasing down a story (and being chased himself because of it) Carter was in a life threatening accident.  Having crashed a motorcycle into a barricade, Carter was in a coma.  His consciousness was duplicated and converted into data, thus creating the computer generated character of Max Headroom.  (The name was taken from Carter’s last memory, the “Max. Headroom” sign on the barricade.)

Max may have inherited the “personality” of Carter, but he had a few glitches which gave his character a very snarky sense of humor ungoverned by societal norms.  He inhabited the computer system of Network 23 (Edison’s employer), which measured ratings by the minute… and they discovered that their viewing audience responded to the new creation better than anything they had previously aired.  Max was allowed to remain in their system (as long as the ratings held), and Max found a way to appear on any TV screen as a result.

After his recovery, Carter was aided by his producer Theora Jones (Amanda Pays), a strong female character who was more than a match for Edison’s rather pushy ways.  They made a terrific team, with Edison out in the field with his camera and Theora back at the control room using the varied resources of Network 23 (including Max when he was inclined) to guide Edison and help him out of scrapes.  The head of the news division was Murray (Jeffrey Tambor) who ran interference between the network and his top investigative team, especially when the network didn’t care so much about truth as it did about ratings.

Network 23 was represented by Ned Grossberg (Charles Rocket), an unprincipled businessman to whom ratings and profits meant everything, and ethics meant nothing.  He was removed as chairman of Network 23 when his project of “Blipverts” was shown to actually kill viewers… not that he wanted to stop the new form of advertising over a measly issue like that!  His replacement was Ben Chevoit (George Coe), a throwback to the days of television actually being a responsible medium, and he often backed Carter in his endeavors until Grossberg found a devious way to return himself to the chairman’s seat to become once again a thorn in Carter’s side.

Max watches over all.

The wild cards in this strange future were Bryce Lynch (Chris Young) and Blank Reg (W. Morgan Sheppard).  Bryce was the tech genius whose wizardry helped create Max in the first place.  A sixteen-year-old prodigy with no concern for the uses of his inventions and intelligence, his abilities are co-opted by both good and evil forces.  Blank Reg was an underground “unregistered” person and ran a renegade low-power UHF station, airing unapproved and subversive information (like, say, the actual truth).  Reg is a friend of Carter and helps in Carter’s investigations, while Bryce is slowly becoming more aware of the concepts of “right and wrong” through his interaction with Max, Carter, and Theora.

“Max Headroom is every talking head you ever saw.  Max Headroom is every televangelist, every sports reporter, every news reporter.  He’s an amalgam of them all.  The language, the words that he uses, skip and flip from one to the other.  (…)
Max’s residual self-image grows from his experience of television, his consciousness grows from his experience of television.  He has all the wiring of a human mind, but none of the memories.”
–George Strong, creator of Max Headroom

Max Headroom told stories of advertising run amok, of automated censorship, of religious extremism.  There were portrayals of corporate control of popular opinion for ratings, overwhelming consumerism, and profit without regard to humanity and truth.  Information was power, and the manipulation of that information for monetary gain was all that mattered.  The onscreen graphic proclaimed that Max Headroom considered its premise to be merely “20 minutes into the future”….

Tick… tick… tick….

Welcome to the "new" world

We don’t currently live in the somewhat post-apocalyptic environment portrayed on Max Headroom, but we are (twenty-plus years into the future) in a world that was accurately predicted in many ways.  The majority of us are wired into the internet, carrying various mobile devices that can pinpoint our locations, our interests, our schedules, our friends and family, and vast amounts of information that used to be impossible for others to discover readily.  Identity theft isn’t a science-fiction idea anymore, but a practical reality we must be aware of in at least limited terms.  Almost-instant ratings for television have existed for years with set-top interactive boxes that report not only what’s being watched, but who is in the room watching at the time.  And the supposedly outrageous 1987 idea of 23 (or more!) networks existing in this fictional world is almost laughable in a modern-day reality where I can call up hundreds of channels at the touch of the remote sitting next to my chair, not to mention my computer within reach which has even MORE outlets for information, entertainment… and advertising.  Max Headroom is, dare I say it, almost quaint in some respects.

Television in America circa early 1987 consisted of primarily three widely viewed commercial broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), a small public network with little funding (PBS), and a burgeoning number of cable outlets with modest viewership and narrow reach.  The brand new FOX network began its first prime-time series on April 5, 1987… less than a week AFTER the premiere of Max Headroom on ABC.  Little did we all know that the future was beginning already….

“The premise of Max Headroom is a world ’20 minutes into the future’, which is ruled by corporations and governed by television… in which truth is a commodity in short supply, and in which one individual (in this instance Edison Carter) is out there to make a difference.”
–George Strong

Broadcasting companies (and their cable brethren) have been swallowed up by corporate conglomerates repeatedly over the years, so much so that a significant majority of the television that is produced and shown is controlled by a small number of organizations reaching an overwhelming number of people.  ABC is currently owned by Disney, with significant reach in numerous countries and applied synergy through not only multiple cable networks (such as ESPN and The Disney Channel) but movie interests, home video, theme parks, cruise lines, travel agencies, live theatre production, recording and book publishing, food companies, and many and varied other corporate partners.  CBS owns not one, but two broadcast networks (it also owns The CW), Paramount TV and movie studio, the Simon & Schuster publishing house, and a significant stake in outdoor advertising and computer software companies.  NBC has ownership and partnership with everything from Universal to General Electric to Spanish-language TV giant Telemundo.  The recently negotiated deal of cable and internet provider Comcast with NBC allows Comcast to own all parts of information and entertainment presentation from initial idea to media consumption by the consumer.

The media empire

The one that puts these seeming behemoths to shame is FOX, owned by Rupert Murdoch and his NewsCorp. media empire.  This includes FoxNews, The Wall Street Journal, Foxtel mobile telecommunications, numerous cable networks (in America, the UK, Italy, Germany, Brazil, and Australia), satellite broadcast companies in multiple countries, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 newspapers and magazines in the English-speaking world alone, two major book publishing houses, a record company, sports leagues, and a dizzying array of other types of businesses.  (Murdoch’s empire can reach and influence 3/4 of the population OF THE WORLD!)  One man’s company controls more than the gross national product of several individual countries, as well as the information flow to a large portion of civilization.  In other words, the occasionally absurd ideas of corporate media control, saturation, and influence on Max Headroom are already here… we just didn’t notice them happening to us.

In practical terms, although it seems viewers have a multitude of choices for information and entertainment, those choices are really all owned by 5 to 10 large corporate empires, with corporate bean-counters now in charge… and art and truth have been reduced in many cases to profit margins and sales opportunities.  News organizations now don’t just have news, they actively have “narrative” portraying liberal (MSNBC) or conservative (FoxNews) points of view, with the decisions of how the news is covered (and even what specific news is covered at all) made by corporations with deliberate and potentially self-serving “points of view”.  Little or no attention is paid to “objectivity” sometimes, as it would obviously get in the way of the “narrative”.  Willing audiences can find what they want to hear instead of what is accurate, confirming their beliefs instead of challenging them, and if they don’t like what they hear, there’s always another outlet to tell them a “gentler” (read:  more comfortable and possibly less true) version of reality.

Can you really trust what you see on TV?

Pure objectivity and honest reality have taken a beating.  The result is a rather strange situation where “fact” has become “what you believe” and “truth” has become “how strongly you believe it”.  And with the pervasiveness of the “narrative” media in today’s world, even the wary have a difficult time discerning reality through all the noise being generated, or even telling sound from fury.  At least on Max Headroom, we had Edison Carter to believe in, and others to whom the truth still meant something… these days, it’s not nearly so easy to tell.

MATT FREWER (Edison Carter/Max Headroom) has made a living out of playing off-kilter characters on shows like Eureka, Eerie, Indiana, and Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  His horror quota includes a number of Stephen King mini-series, and he’s also a very popular voice-over actor for numerous animated shows including Gargoyles, The Incredible Hulk, and Hercules.  His other leading role on television was as star of the comedy series Doctor Doctor which ran for 2+ seasons starting in 1989.

AMANDA PAYS (Theora Jones) will likely be seen here again for a similar role, as she was the female lead in The Flash.  Born in England, her acting career has featured both American and British productions.  She’s married to actor Corbin Bernsen, and her role on Max Headroom was noted when a video codec program was named Theora in her character’s honor.

JEFFREY TAMBOR (Murray) has had a memorable comedic television career, being an integral part of The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development, receiving Emmy nominations for both.  He’s also been a regular on many other comedies including Nine to Five, The Ropers, Welcome to the Captain, and Twenty Good Years.  Always in demand as an actor, he also finds time to teach acting on an occasional basis.

CHARLES ROCKET (Ned Grossberg) was a regular on Saturday Night Live and a rising comedy star until he let slip with an obscenity that was accidentally aired, which led to the majority of the cast and writing staff being fired.  His short-lived series included Tequila and Bonetti, The Home Court, and Normal, Ohio.  Another voice-over actor, he was featured in the movie Titan A.D. and in numerous computer games.  He was found dead of a self-inflicted wound in 2005.

GEORGE COE (Ben Cheviot) has been a regular in only a few shows, but as a character actor he has graced almost 100 different series.  Although he was the oldest regular on Max Headroom in 1987, he’s still acting today, most recently in Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, and doing a regular voice in the animated series Archer.  He was also an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, although he only appeared on the first few shows.

CHRIS YOUNG (Bryce Lynch) has become a producer and director since his time on Max Headroom, utilizing various technologies to create movies, music videos, and shorts that feature 3-D location effects.  He’s also carved out a niche doing multi-screen video for concert performances used by musicians ranging from Kelly Clarkson to Tim McGraw to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.  More information on his tremendously varied work can be found at his own website.

W. MORGAN SHEPPARD (Blank Reg) is, like his son Mark Sheppard, a SF favorite.  He’s appeared with four different Star Trek incarnations, not to mention performances in Babylon 5, Quantum Leap, SeaQuest 2032, and Legend of the Seeker.  He’ll get the chance to appear with his son on upcoming episodes of Doctor Who in the 2011 season.  He’s also been seen in the movies The Prestige and Transformers.

Max Headroom has a rather storied history outside the realm of the actual TV series.  The character originated in the UK, and the hybrid of Matt Frewer and Max have done everything from host music video programs (and interview celebrities) to being a spokesman for the introduction of New Coke (unfortunately, that failed as well).  Shout Factory released the series on DVD in 2010, with wonderful extras including interviews with many of the cast, writers, creators, and retrospectives on both the use of real computers in the series (which was a first) as well as changing of film styles that were needed for filming and coordinating all the video monitors on the set.  Online resources can be found here for both the long history of the character of Max and the ABC series itself… and there’s even rumors of a possible return of Max to screens in the coming year or two… like, say, maybe another 20 minutes into the future?

“My main intention, right at the very core of Max and his world, was to get people to question the process of television.  To understand that, behind the screen, there is a consciousness and an agenda… and that agenda might not always be on your side.   What is news?  Who says what?  Who says what stories go where?  These processes that inform you aren’t neutral, they may not be in your best interests.  So, I’d like to think that Max Headroom helped people wise up to what they were seeing, to see that news and information isn’t neutral.  It comes from somewhere, it is filtered through a particular mesh, and that mesh will only let certain ideas through, other things will be filed away.  So, Edison Carter is a man who wants to find out the truth.  He works against corporate interests and in the interests of truth.  Whether the journalists we have on the ground now are as pure of heart… let’s watch television this evening and find out.”
–George Strong

Yes, this is a real cover... but is it really news or noise?

As much as I obviously love television, I don’t trust it.  I’ve grown up with the ability to learn, to think, to understand and process information for myself.  I refuse to let any machine, corporation, organization, political group, advertiser, or individual take my own thoughts and ideas away from me, or present their own “truth” as objective.  Nor do I expect (or even want) anyone to take mine instead of their own.  But there has to be some level of objective reality in this real world that we all share, and we all have to find it regardless of what various media and other forces want us to believe for their own agendas.

We need another brave soul in the storied news tradition of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite to stand up in the face of slanted journalism and outright lies.  It’s unfortunate that someone like that in today’s world would likely be unable to have a voice on television, since the methods of expression are now controlled largely by those he or she would try to speak out against.  Even those earlier bastions of integrity are now being torn down by those owning the medium.  Witness this particular “opinion” piece from just last year looking back at Cronkite’s career by a modern-day “journalist” of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.  It criticizes Cronkite heavily for a rare occasion of offering his own opinion… and yet even in this criticism is the idea of “narrative” that Murdoch’s FoxNews engages in every single day.

Truth will always win out, no matter the medium of its expression.  But truth must also be actively sought, not just by those who attempt to transmit it, but by all of us viewers who might receive it.  We must all continually discern sound from fury, signal from noise.  Famous scholar and pioneer in media theory Marshall McLuhan once warned that “the medium is the message”.  But despite the media control over the message in today’s society making this idea even more manipulative, the medium and message are not the same thing,  Viewers passively accepting one for the other will ultimately lead us headlong into the dystopia portrayed in Max Headroom… and I’m afraid some people are already there.

Vital Stats

13 aired episodes — 1 unaired (available on DVD)
ABC Network
First aired episode:  March 31, 1987
Last aired episode:  May 5, 1988 (The series was actually canceled in October of the previous year, but two “new” episodes ran in late April and early May of 1988.)
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Well, the first six episodes succeeded at Tuesdays 8/7 Central, so what did ABC do?  They moved it to Fridays at 9/8 Central in the fall against Dallas, where it was b-b-b-b-bye Max!

Comments and suggestions encouraged, as always.

–Tim R.

Looking at the future on New Year’s Eve, featuring a show that was surprisingly accurate at predicting the path of the very medium that created it.  Not the apocalypse part with the rubble and everything, but what’s happened to how we all find out about it.  Five quotes:

“The future of network TV is at stake here… and right now, it doesn’t look good.”

…especially when the network didn’t care about truth so much as it did about ratings.

“He has all the wiring of a human mind, but none of the memories.”

Little to no attention is paid to “objectivity” sometimes, as it would obviously get in the way of the “narrative”.

“These processes that inform you aren’t neutral… they may not be in your best interests.”

Want to see what’s new?  Grab a Coke and come visit a very different world with a very different title character this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central!

–Tim R.

It's a TV Christmas!

Something a little different this week.  It’s Christmas, and while I really don’t want to single out a particular show for the holiday, I do want to write a bit about what I want as presents, both for shows that I feature on this site, and for television in general.  I want to express what I love about television, and what I want in shows that is sometimes lacking (and where I think television in general, and studios and networks in particular, should change).  So, onward with “a very special episode” of Friday @ 8/7 Central….

(See, network promotion departments?  That “very special episode” phrase got so overused that it became a code for “our comedy writers tried to be seriously dramatic and failed”.  This is one wish that came true back in the day, that the phrase would never be used for a television episode again.  I can only hope that the wishes I make today will fare as well.)

A surviving still from the early '60s: Doctor Who "The Dalek Master Plan"

Obviously, the first thing I’d like is for many, many more short-lived shows to be available on DVD.  Storage and upkeep issues have kept many old gems from ever seeing the light of day, and some shows apparently no longer exist at all anymore.  (The BBC wiped the master tapes of much of the original Doctor Who from the sixties, because they needed the magnetic tape and didn’t have proper storage space.  It is believed that 108 original half-hours are lost for eternity.)  Others are just such low quality (compared to the HD and Blu-Ray releases of today) that a current release simply isn’t viable according to most studios, and it doesn’t matter that some of us originally saw “bright, new, colorful” shows on lousy 9-inch black-and-white portable TVs in the first place.  With 50-inch Hi-Def Surround Sound home theaters, the flaws of many original broadcasts are glaring.  (For instance, now that they’ve been remastered, did you realize that you could  see coffee stains on Mr. Spock’s uniform in some episodes of the original Star Trek?  The aired remastered episodes showed them, but Paramount then digitally erased the stains for the DVDs!)

My kingdom for a DVD set

Perhaps the loving memories some of us have of these old shows would be tarnished by being brought into the modern (and technologically advanced) light of day, but I wish that I’d be able to make that determination for myself.  The bootleg method at least gives me some access, but it doesn’t compensate in the slightest the many actors, writers, producers, and other creative people involved for all their hard work on these shows.  I’d much rather give my hard-earned money to those that worked their tails off to provide all of us with their creativity, instead of those who can simply make copies on their computers.  But if it’s the only way to get copies of, say, Covington Cross, then that’s what I’ll continue to do (unfortunately).

Meanwhile, I’d gladly give a lump of coal (or three) to those music companies who can’t figure out that their music rights aren’t worth the entire projected profits (and more) from a possible DVD release… especially when they sold “broadcast rights” for songs originally, and now just want to be greedy.  Music rights issues are (after availability of the actual source episodes, of course) one of the top reasons for DVDs NOT being produced, to the detriment of viewers, studios, and music companies as well.  And the only thing worse than not having the shows available is having episodes that have been significantly altered from their original broadcasts.

Leaping without the music

Yes, people should get paid for what they’ve created, music and video.  But television studios are caught between “rock and roll” and a hard place when they try to “replace” music instead of paying some of the outrageous costs music publishers wish to charge.  When Quantum Leap came out in season DVD sets, the “period” music in many episodes was replaced with generic, homogenized music in each era’s style.  The worst offense of this type is in the season 2 finale M.I.A., which used the great Ray Charles vocal Georgia on my Mind to wonderful effect in the original episode… and on the DVD it was replaced by a piece of music so mediocre that the emotional core of the entire episode is lost.  Part of this is timing (the set came out the same year that the Oscar-winning biography movie Ray was released, and the music of Charles was enjoying a popular revival), but the show was so damaged by this and other replacement tracks that there’s still a healthy market in the bootleg business for Quantum Leap episodes with the original music. (And even more oddly, the UK version of the DVDs has the original soundtrack!!! It’s one of my favorite shows of all time, and I won’t buy the U.S. DVDs just because of the music issues… as presented, it’s not the show I loved anymore.)

Oh, so close....

Even with replacement tracks, some shows will never be available due to the fact that there may not be a separate “music track” available to alter in the first place.  Because the dialogue and music are inseparable on some older master copies (and the music rights are unable to be purchased reasonably), certain titles will never see the store shelves without their original soundtracks.  (A release of the early FOX series Werewolf was announced and only a week from being actually sold in stores when it was pulled for this very reason.)  Many contracts for use of music soundtracks in the ’80s and ’90s didn’t dream of “home video”, so no rights were negotiated.  Music publishers are trying to make new money out of essentially “nothing” instead of being reasonable.  Money should be exchanged, but not be extorted.

Gotta love commentary.

The good news is, more and more shows are being produced with the idea of DVD releases already figured into their budgeting, and short-lived series are seeing packages made and released.  Creature Comforts has double the number episodes on the DVD than actually aired on CBS.  Oh, and thank you Daybreak, not only for including all 13 episodes produced in the set when only six aired on TV… but adding FIFTEEN commentaries, no less.  (An embarrassment of riches compared to the Castle DVD.  Its second season was recently released with NO commentary at all on any episodes, and it’s considered successful as a series.  Maybe someone figured people would only buy “failed” shows if tons of new material were added?  Perhaps, but I’ll take all the extras gladly!)

New distribution methods also help with short-lived titles, such as the “Amazon-only” release of The Unusuals, or made-on-demand video of many Warner Brothers titles from their catalog.  Such a system lets companies put out material to collectors and others without the risk of over-printing or significant distribution problems, and lets those titles with lesser mainstream potential still be rediscovered by those with interest.  Kudos for all these, and I only wish further success (and more titles!) can be released this way (I’m begging for Search, Warners… just letting you know!)

If you’re looking for a particular show (and wondering why it’s never been released on DVD yet), then I highly recommend the What’s the hold-up? page on the terrific TVshowsonDVD.com site.  If you’re looking for a specific show release, they’re the experts.  And if your choices haven’t been released yet, you can register there and vote… and this is one of the few sites that the industry actually pays attention to, so let your voice be heard.

Looking to the future, what do I wish for Christmas in terms of shows currently in production and what Hollywood and Co. hope to make next?  Easy… I want to see Episode Six.

Lone Star: almost a lone episode

Let me explain.  There are two problems in the industry that have to do with “Episode Six”.  The first is the network, the second is in production, and they work against each other all the time.  The network problem most people are probably aware of.  Lone Star got canceled by FOX after only two episodes aired this past fall, despite it being one of the most critically acclaimed series of the season.  But it was a “challenge” series, with a not-totally likeable hero, a premise that wasn’t easy to sum up in one “high-concept” title, and the show was difficult to promote properly in a 15 or 30 second commercial.  It was also scheduled against some of the highest rated competition on television (Dancing with the Stars, and the Monday night comedy block on CBS).  While it was designed to be different from the competing shows, many people didn’t even know it was on… until it was off.  (Drive being my favorite example of this type of thing, and guess what?  Same time slot as Lone Star… thanks, FOX.)

Television shows should get a minimum of six episodes to prove themselves.  MIN-I-MUM. (got that networks?)  Anything less, and audiences, especially in this day and age of media bombardment, may not even find a show.  And audiences are savvy these days.  Many won’t even sample a show unless they know it’s something that won’t get taken away from them immediately.  (You don’t know how many people I’ve talked to who are frustrated with networks yanking shows off the air prematurely, and have decided to “not invest” in them by watching initially.  It’s a Catch-22 situation:  audiences don’t want to spend time on something that won’t last, and networks don’t want to spend time (and money) on shows with no audience yet.  Letting people know, in advance, that they’ll get a minimum number of episodes consistently and without being jumped around the schedule with no warning is part of a “contract” with the viewers, which viewers will reward with their loyalty.  Otherwise, no one will show up, and everyone pays for it.

“We very often will have moments that evolve.  We start with a good premise, and we start with a really good set-up, and then we’ll just keep rolling… and suddenly something will grow out of it,  and not only does it make that scene better, but it actually teaches us what we can do, how far we can push it.  Little things [the actors] do on the set, later we’ll say ‘let’s make that a character trait, and let’s let that keep reoccurring.'”
–Dean Devlin, creator of Leverage on the influence of the actors on writing the characters

Here’s the production problem:  If you take a brand new series, the writing team starts out ahead of everyone else (naturally, because all parts of production need scripts).  By the time that first episode is finally finished, with cast, costumes, sets, and everything, the writing staff has usually progressed writing up through episode six or so.  That’s when the staff can actually see and hear who they’re writing for, and characters and relationships start becoming much more than just words on paper.  They become people who interact, and if the actors are any good, they give added pieces to the character, which the writing staff can then see and work into the series, developing the characters even more.  Those first five episodes are written “blind”, so to speak.

The Cape starts in January. Don't let it end by February.

Episode six is really when shows start to take shape and become something worthwhile.  Sadly, many shows never reach this point these days, due to the knee-jerk reactions of networks and ratings battles.  (Yes, I know it’s not always just ratings.  I’ve heard of shows getting the ax simply because someone else championed them, and that person was no longer with the network when the show finally aired.  The series got shuttled into a lousy time slot with no promotion, and then the new regime could point and say “See, that previous person’s opinion was completely wrong, you made a good choice in putting me in charge instead!”)  Read about New Amsterdam to see just how this works.

On my last show, the writers slowly killed off all the actors and characters we didn’t like until we had a cast of characters we felt we could work with.
–Denis McGrath, writer on Stargate:  Universe, Blood Ties, and The Border

But in the course of making a good show, the sixth episode is vital, not just to the development of the characters, but in the evolution of the style of a series.  Shows (particularly their writers and actors) figure out what works, what doesn’t, and can build to the newly found strengths and eliminate the weaknesses.

Characters don't have to be killed off...

Best example:  I wrote about The Paper Chase recently, and if you look at the opening credits you’ll see the character of Asheley (played by Deka Beaudine) featured there.  Kudos to her agent for negotiating her a special opening credit for the first thirteen episodes… but she actually appears in only three, and even in those her appearance is slight.  (Her part was so small that I decided not to even mention her in the article, other than an oblique reference to being the wife of one of the students… and the husband was also gone by episode thirteen!)  The producers figured out quickly that, no matter how good of an actress she may have been, the character was superfluous to the real drama of the series.  She was the one character who wasn’t actually part of the school, and therefore not really integral to the developing stories and interpersonal relationships.  Give a show six weeks, and the makers will figure out what works (and what doesn’t), and any show will be better off… and so will the viewers.

If the premise is any good, you don’t have to kill off or write out any characters (and if it’s well cast, you don’t have to get rid of particular actors either).  But what the production staff has to do is learn, through experience, what works on the show and what doesn’t, and then tailor the rest of the series accordingly.  Voyagers! did an abrupt change halfway through their season, brought on by the desire to appeal to a larger (and more adult) audience.  The character of the Devil became a more integral part of Brimstone once the staff saw what John Glover did with the role.  The changes may be small, but hits like Seinfeld and Hill Street Blues prospered because of them (after rather slow starts), while Cop Rock refused to and failed.  It’s one more part of the process that most viewers aren’t aware of, and one more way that shows can become great… or become pale imitations of what they could have been.

Network exec or Record label honcho? Neither, actually... they don't wear Santa suits!

We can blame the lack of one-season wonders available on DVD on networks, studios, or record companies.  Thankfully, that problem is at least starting to be fixed, with alternative distribution models like Hulu and Made-on-Demand titles.  But the problem of quickly canceled shows not even getting a chance is still prevalent, and that’s the situation that really needs the most fixing.  Failed shows might mean more fodder for articles, but I really would prefer shows to succeed… or at the very least, be given a good opportunity to do so.  If they can produce (and air) beyond an episode six, they’ve got a better possibility for that success.  And even if they don’t (and end up being canceled far too soon), at least I know that many, if not most, of today’s supposed “failures” will be available on DVD so that I can mine the nuggets of gold that might be hidden there.  And I can spend another Christmas with great shows to watch (or re-watch), and have more terrific television to share.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

–Tim R.

“A Very Special Blog” this week… no particular show (as I found it rather unfair to single out a specific series for Christmas week), but instead have written a piece on what my Xmas wishes were, both for the kinds of shows I cover here, and for networks going forward in creating and nurturing shows in general.  I do get to talk about a few of my favorite shows of all time in the process, however, so here are some hints to those.  Five quotes:

It is believed that 108 original half-hours are lost for eternity.

The aired remastered episodes showed them, but Paramount then digitally erased the stains for the DVDs!

…which used the great Ray Charles vocal Georgia on my Mind to wonderful effect in the original episode.

Its second season was recently released with NO commentary at all on any episodes, and it’s considered successful as a series.

“…and suddenly something will grow out of it, and not only does it make that scene better, but it teaches us what we can do…”

Holiday wishes for all, and I appreciate the gift of your visiting Friday @ 8/7 Central this week!

–Tim R.

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