Archive for May, 2009

The Unit Cancelled – Bad CBS

I wrote this for film.com. You can also go to that site to comment:

CBS won’t be re-upping with The Unit.

Was it a chain reaction after NBC opted out of Medium and CBS decided snag the psychic crime series, or was the military drama always doomed? We suspect the latter.

The Unit has been teetering on cancellations almost from the time it jumped out of the starting gate in March 2006. The Unit posted a respectable audience of 15 million before dropping each season to little more than 9 million viewers.

But despite some tawdry affairs depicted in the series, it’s never been a particularly sexy show for CBS. And CBS wants to have some flash, and to keep far away from its former image as the network drawing the most viewers over the age of 50.

The intense fan base has tried to keep the show on the air, but unlike the Chuck Subway campaign, where fans sparked the sandwich chain to actually sponsor the show, there were no big sponsors willing to go to bat for The Unit.

At a little under $3 million an episode, it’s one of the cheaper series to produce. But the networks are still trying to get the costs down on every show they pick up. The preferred method has been pay cuts or freezes. And that was something star Dennis Haysbert, who plays Jonas Blane on the series, wasn’t willing to do, according to an interview with him in the LA Times.

“There are a number of factors that go into whether I want it back or not,” Haysbert told the paper concerning both his salary and the creative direction of the show. “It’s been a great ride and, if I don’t work with these people again, I’ll certainly play golf with them.”

So in the words of Blane, “You, you and you…panic. The rest of you, come with me.” And we’ll give you five reasons why The Unit should have stayed on the air.

5. There are few scripted shows that parade a banner of nobility and love of country like The Unit. While it doesn’t shrink from controversy, it tells a story that isn’t being explored in a TV landscape that loves dark heroes. House may save your life, but you don’t want to invite him to the neighborhood barbecue. These are good ol’ boys serving their country, and darn proud to do it.

4. Ratings for the show weren’t horrible, but while the ratings were higher than other CBS shows that were picked up, the audience skewed towards older viewers. The median age was around 55, which might just as well spelled dead zone to advertisers. But we contend that this is exactly the group that probably has money to spend right now, and isn’t squirreling away every last cent for fear of getting booted from their jobs.

3. CBS has become the home of the procedurals. We’ve got ghost whispers – and soon another talkin’-to-dead-people crime fighter. We’ve got crime scene investigations in three different cities, and even a military crime team. And, as is the case with all the networks, you can’t swing a stethoscope without hitting a doctor show. Two of the new CBS series are doctor shows. But what is in short supply around the eye-land is a straight drama like The Unit.

2. Before Barak Obama, there was President David Palmer, the honorable man who served as our nation’s president. OK, it was just on 24, but Palmer set a tone. So when the actor, Dennis Haysbert, was recruited to head up the team at The Unit, you knew this was a man to be reckoned with. We could use a few more good men like Jonas on TV.

1. The Unit was written and produced by
Shawn Ryan
(The Shield) and created and written by respected Tony and Oscar-nominee David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, American Buffalo). Mamet’s got a distinctive dialogue style. So when you want to brush this off as just a conservative bent military show, save the dismissive attitude and remember that two of the best dramatic writers around, Ryan and Mamet, helmed The Unit. They served proudly. They never talked down to their audience, and while leaving the door open just in case of a last minute stay of execution, they gave a satisfying season ender to their fans.

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Survivor’s Coach: Tall Tales or Truth?

In the words of fellow Survivor Erinn, who is this jackass?

Benjamin Wade, who prefers to be called Coach or more recently The Dragon Slayer, joins the list of some of the oddest people ever to play the game of Survivor, ranking right up there with liar Johnny Fairplay, nudist/tax evader Richard Hatch and lovable pirate Rupert Boneham.

Fairplay became one of the most hated players in the history of the show after setting up his fellow players by making them believe his beloved grandmother had died while he was on the show. Grandma, of course, was alive and kickin’. While we might forgive a little fudging when it comes to playing the game, there’s a limit to our tolerance for fabricators.

With his samurai hair style, tribal tats and self-aggrandizing stories, Coach has become the celebrity du jour of the water cooler set. He says he is the only person in America to have been taught some obscure Chinese martial arts, but it just looks like your basic Tai chi to me.

CBS even devoted a “Best of Coach” Web page on some of the man’s more outrageous antics.

But is this guy for real? Well, some of his claims check out, others don’t. He is a conductor for the Susanville Symphony and was a coach for the girl’s soccer team at the tiny Southwest Baptist University in Missouri, but is he the direct descendant of Pocahontas? Here’s the Top-Five Coach stories, including the most outrageous about overcoming a deadly pygmy attack during a kayaking trip down the Amazon. Feel free to add your own.

5. On a Web site devoted to Coach and his indie film producer brother Pete, they tell the story of the time Coach met Tom Hanks at a party and told him all about his kayaking exploits. Those exploits were incorporated into Hank’s 2000 film Cast Away. Allegedly. Maybe. No word from Hanks about that. But we do know that Cast Away fed into the development of Lost, so maybe Coach is also responsible for the hit ABC series. And we expect to hear soon about how he created the Internet.

4. Coach asks Erinn to put a black raven’s feather in his hair to honor his indigenous peoples heritage.”Very proud of that part of the family,” he confides in Erinn before telling her that when he was a surfer, his hair was blond so he didn’t “look like an Indian so much.” A bio on the aforementioned Web site claims Coach is a direct descendent of Pocahontas. We’re still researching that one. But we do know that his maternal grandfather founded a successful SoCal company called California Jig Grinding, which probably gave him the financial wherewithal to do some traveling.

3. Coach claims he set the world record (6,000 plus miles) for kayaking when he took his trip that included the famous Amazon adventure. Jeff Moag, editor of Canoe & Kayak magazine says “I can’t confirm whehter he paddled 6,000 miles solo or even if there are small cannibalistic people in Peru, although I doubt it. I can tell you that Paul Caffyn kayaked more than 9,000 miles in 1980 and 1981. So, no record.”

2. Coach gets his moniker from coaching soccer and most recently was the head socer coach for Southwest Baptist University. That was before Mr. Honesty lead the team to believe that he needed to leave them during their season for cancer tests. Coach had earlier been treated for a brain tumor. He says they jumped to the conclusion that was why he was leaving, because he couldn’t tell them it was to go film Survivor. The university was not happy when they discovered the truth, and booted Coach.

1. “Three people in the world know this story,” Coach says as the tribe gathers around the campfire. A military helicopter drops him off near the Peruvian border. Now, we’d believe he could contract someone to do this. It’s done all the time. But the military? Even with his claim of being able to pull some strings, it’s hard to imagine or swallow that your tax dollars go towards dropping Coach off for a fun trip down the Amazon. Was it karma that lead him to be snatched by pygmies, who beat him until he miraculously escaped their clutches? “It’s hard to explain the feeling of being stalked by another human being,” he says. Or the feeling of swallowing another Coach story.

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Big Bang Just the Tip of the Geek-berg

The Big Bang Theory set is just like walking into your favorite comic book store, jam packed with little toys and geeky guys.

Really funny geeky guys.

Each week, viewers tune in to one of the top two comedies on the air,
The Big Bang Theory
. They chuckle at the scary smart antics of roommates Leonard and Sheldon and their geek squad Howard, the nerd who’s always trying to score with the ladies and Raj, who turns mute around women.

Jim Parsons plays the anti-social obsessive-compulsive Sheldon, who is tolerated by his friends, and his sweet roommate Leonard. Sheldon’s a character who could be widely hated because of his abrasiveness. Instead, Parsons makes him sort of loveable, although you’d never want him to be your friend.

“I just want to say that no one ever says they are just like Sheldon. Everyone knows someone just like Sheldon,” the droll Parson says. “(They’ll say) I’m the Leonard of the group. I will even go with Howard, but no one ever claims to be just like Sheldon. And neither do I.”

As Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard, quips “The math on that just doesn’t work.”

Geeks and nerd list have been widely circulated, especially in the last few years. You’ve always got the perennial favorites like Steve Urkel, Screech, Barney Fife and even Velma Dinkley.

But that’s only the tip of the geek-berg. Try a few of these current TV characters:

10. Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons),
Friday Night Lights
> – The first season started with Landry and his best friend Matt Saracen as outcasts. While making the team may have boosted them a bit, Landry’s still the geeky guy trying to get the girl.

9. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), 30 Rock – Liz lacks many of the social skills that define her as a geek. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd, who thought that people in high school disliked her because of it. Turned out that didn’t like her because she used her wit like nunchucks. And she’s obsessed with Star Wars. Enough said.

8. Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith) The Simpsons – Intelligent, plays the sax in the school band and is a vegetarian. If that’s not enough to tip you off, she also wears the same clothes year after year.

7. Larry Fleinhardt (Peter MacNicol) Numb3rs – Peter MacNicol excels at playing nerds, including his stint on Ally McBeal. But this is the ultimate geek role as the Cal Tech genius professor Larry, who is beyond awkward in any given social situation. Larry, like Leonard, wants more out of life than just the insular existence of your average nerd. So he has branched out by actually getting the pretty woman, at least for a short time, and becoming an astronaut (which allowed the actor to takes some time off for a role on 24).

6. Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness)
Criminal Minds
- She dropped out of Cal Tech (which is code for all things geeky and nerdy) to become a computer hacker (again, a career that screams g and n). She’s into massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MOORPG, and works as an online crime analyst for the FBI.

5. Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) Lost – This time traveling genius professor also has a problem with his social and interpersonal skills. Like, experimenting on a human, albeit willing, that resulted in tossing her into a coma. The professor has mommy issues and can’t quite connect with people, although he seems to want to give it a go.

4. Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette)
NCIS
– Goth girl often sleeps in a coffin, is covered in tats, yet she’s as sweet and good-natured as Pollyanna. And she’s also awesome in her job as a forensic scientist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

3. Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi)
Chuck
– He’s the leader of the Nerd Herd, a guy set up by a former friend that resulted in getting Chuck expelled from Stanford. Stuck in what seems to be a dead-end job, his brain becomes a hot commodity after critical information is downloaded into his brain. Chuck’s smart,adorable and the ultimate geek.

2. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) Bones – Even beautiful women can be nerds, as proven by lovely forensic anthropologist known as Bones or Tempe. She doesn’t understand most pop culture references and is hyper rational. She sees relationships with the opposite sex as pleasurable experiences that don’t really need to be any more than that. Although intensely loyal to her friends, she tries to maintain a certain distance from humans in general.

1. Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka)
Heroes
– Hiro is the geek’s geek, the ultimate nerd. He lives the life of a comic book hero, believing that good overcomes evil, and that he’s the Luke Skywalker of his generation.

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