The notion of the strong female structures greatly into the notion of the basis of new drama and comedic foils. While Courtney Cox progresses the comedy in dexterous areas on “Cougar Town”, Fox Television’s progression across multiple shows from “Modern Family” to “How I Met You Mother and even to “Glee” show the increasing possibilities.
The women of “Modern Family” in the guise of Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara first bring the structure to bear. Bowen indicates that the new trend of funny women exemplifies “the expectation that women can be attractive as well as funny”. She jokes that the progressive thought of males is to look at female and think “I’ve hit that!”. She thinks that all the Fox shows have been on this journey though she points out that Jane Lynch of “Glee” is a “fart fest”. She explains that “I have played the girlfriend role for years” and “the finger shaker” but admits in jest “that it is a relief to play a woman that you would like to do other than bang” which is “something very few women do” because “it is a scary river to cross”. Each year of a hit show is maintaining and evolving the alchemy. She explains that “funny is about finding a match” which “doesn’t go out of style” but indicates that “Modern Family” works “because of a format”. She dissects that “at the table reads, we play it as a multi-cam” but that “the writing is 99% and then the actors”.
Vergara, who plays Sophia, says that “some women find something in Ed [O’Neill]” who plays her older husband in “Modern Family”. She ruminates that she “never thought that I would be with an older guy” but “I can see it now”. The key for her is that “for a woman to be funny, you have to forget about being sexy”. She says “for me, they have no choice” and that is why “it is perfect for me”.
Changing the structure to “Glee” which again straddles the ideal like “Family” between humor and drama, two characters could not be more different than Lea Michele’s hopeful Rachel and Jane Lynch’s cunning Sue Sylvester. Michele speaks about her start on Broadway with “Spring Awakening” and that it was “coming off with blood, sweat and tears” though she wanted to just be “fun and outgoing” though she describes herself then as a “spastic kid”. What she truly loves about Rachel is that “she is innocent and young”. She idolized Gilda Radner “because I thought nobody on television looked like me and was gawky”. Every episode for her is “like doing one whole Broadway show” and always “requires going into the recording studio”. Alluding to their shooting schedule, she sums up the current episode they are filming now saying “on Fraterday, I was on a football field in Long Beach looking like Bette Midler in ‘Hocus Pocus’ singing ‘Thriller'”.
Lynch, using her trademark style, brings it back down to Earth stating “I was never seen as the girlfriend on anybody” adding that “I originally did roles that were written for men”. She cites Carol Burnett as her beacon, especially in her era, because as a performer Burnett was “unique”, “wacky” and “wasn’t the girlfriend type”. She concedes that she just did an episode for “Two & Half Men” three weeks prior. As to the celebrity quotient for “Glee”, Lynch declares “I remember ‘Friends’ at its peak when people were trying to do it” but adds “it had to reinvent itself” alluding to popularity as “a numbers game” and “chemical romance”.
Alyson Hannigan, initially known for her roles in the “American Pie” movies who has now graduated as part of the highly praised ensemble cast on “How I Met Your Mother”, speaks to the female point-of-view saying “out of 17 writers we have at least 7 female writers, and each year we get new women”. She cites Carol Burnett also as a big inspiration adding that, as a kid,”if I could make my mom laugh, I wouldn’t get in trouble”. The key with a unstable economy is “with everybody struggling, you just want to escape” continuing “I just don’t to sit down and watch another depressing procedural” because “it is like watching the news”. “Mother”, in many ways, is a “different animal” for her as a sitcom “since we don’t do it in front of a studio studio” so “we don’t know if it helps or hurts”. She does explain that “with single camera you can do much less”.
Martha Plimpton, formerly known for her more dramatic film roles, plays to her comedy sensibilities as Virginia in “Raising Hope”. She examines the changing gender roles beginning with the fact that “the traditional thing is that the guy is the star of the show from Jackie Gleason on with Audrey as his foil”. In simpler terms, she says “the woman is there to make a guy look like an ass”. She comments that “Roseanne changed that for a time” but highlights that “when a woman gets to take part in the comedy, it changes as she becomes part of the asanine storyline”. Using her character on “Hope” as an example, “she was a mother at 15” and “she was not expecting it” though she “would have objections if they gave me a cane”. Plimpton likes it because now she is part of fun adding “I don’t have to have my arms crossed saying ‘You boys!'” For her, the world is a “funny place” where “we can talk about it [here] but it won’t be that funny of a conversation”. For her, it is all about “who is the character?” which she equates to the fact that “she is smart but is not in on it because she has other things to” and “she has to pee alot”.
The revolving structure within the new idealism of ABC under the stewardship of Paul Lee reflects a more family based structure despite the success of more edgy fare like “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” With the exception of “Off The Map” which takes advantage of post-“Lost” Hawaii assets, most of the new material revolves around the Disney Channel and Lee’s former post at ABC Family. The intentions are not unfamiliar but reflect changes in regards to structure of the former regime.
Paul Lee addressed the elements of forward momentum with a much more committed hand than the previous incarnation only hours after his new post was assigned. In regards to his recent thoughts, he distinctified that the company has really stood behind their Wednesday comedy block before dictating that “The Middle”, “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” would be picked up for next season. Lee continued with intention saying that his goal is really to make ABC Studios “a showrunner culture”. He worried when they launched that there were too many shows. Even big broadcast networks, he explains, need to have a place and time. He points to “Body Of Proof”, the new Dana Delany show, as being “a very good procedural” but admits that now the networks have to “play and compete 12 months a year”. He examples “Castle” as being the target of the ABC brand. He continues describing the network, and broadcast studios in general, in that “we brought the dinner party and we brought the guests but the showrunners need to continue” the progression. Both them and the network behind them have to “be willing to fall on your face” but do it within branding.
In speaking to new ideas in the process, he mentions a “fabulous procedural” that Shonda Rhimes [of “Grey Anatomy” and “Private Practice”] is working on. They have also made two pick ups with “Smothered” and “One Up” which he explains are both comedies. In terms of existing comedies, he volunteers that “Cougar Town” has a very distinctive voice. In terms of “Mr. Sunshine” headlined by Matthew Perry, they will be placing that show after “Modern Family” within the schedule. He admits a couple years ago ABC couldn’t have been able to anchor an hour on Wednesday. Comedies, in Lee’s mind, take a while to find themselves.
Approaching the other end of the spectrum with a series like “V”, 10 episodes were ordered because within that they could maintain quality control. In the same vein, Lee addressed the interaction of Marvel within the Disney family and how that could impact ABC. His thought is that with something like Marvel, you can get the whole company behind the idea which keys back to his focus on brand, Lee also admits to the fact that the networks are living in a fragmented universe (i.e. DVR, online watching) which changes the way viewing is tracked. Marketing becomes critical but there needs to be time to do so. When interrelating to other networks, he points out that shows like “The Good Wife” and “Glee” fit the ABC Brand though he admits his favorite ABC Shows are “Modern Family”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dancing With The Stars”.
Disney Channel’s “Lemonade Mouth” uses the strength of “Glee” to use the inherent star-making behind some of Disney’s successes into a specified movie aimed at creating an essence of edginess without sacrificing values.
Debra Chase, who also produced “Cheetah Girls” and “The Princess Diaries”, describes the production as “a movie with music” with “these characters trying to find their voice”. The key was to find a group that would “become a band with their band performances”. She said that they spent three months looking all over the world to find the best prospects. The script was based on a novel by Mark David Hughes and the title comes from the organic lemonade machine which is the cornerstone of the school. Chase’s hope is that the heart, soul and spirit of the book still lives on in the movie.
Patricia Riggen, who also directed the Spanish film “Under The Same Moon”, says that every song in the movie is special and worked from character, revealing a duality. She points out with the kinds of songs the kids sing, they are more mature and can stand on their own. For her it was a challenge to do serious storytelling on a 8 week shoot where it was about walking into an empty room and bringing the voices together.
Adam Hicks, who plays Wen, says that music motivates people whether they know it or not. The first thing he does after writing music is that he wants to tell people. The key in “Lemonade Mouth” was that in doing all the rehearsals, they could show that they all legitimately play the instruments on and off camera. His angle is writing rap which he has been doing since the 4th grade but said he “loves the surprise [from people] because I have red hair and freckles”.
Tisha Campbell-Martin, best known from the TV series “Martin”, says that she started out doing musicals Off-Broadway before graduating to “Little Shop Of Horrors” and “Rags To Riches”. She says originally she couldn’t get arrested in getting a comedic role. Seeing these young people in the movie however reminded her so much of herself.
ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” continues the act of trying to balance family programming with an edge using the story of a quartet of women who are targeted by anonymous foe, paving the way for “Mean Girls” reversal.
Exec producer Oliver Goldstick focuses the idea that the series is specifically about romance and that the soul mate connections are structured through the episodes. Balancing that with the implements of a procedural allows the show to use subtext in a series of cycles. The structure of the narrative, he explains, can rotate into mini-seasons like a 3-act play taking into account the theme of responsibility as the central cornerstone of the series.
The girls involved kept balance with how much they wanted to be aware of the world beyond the script. Lucy Hale, who plays Aria, only planned on reading the 1st book but ended up getting through the middle of Book 5. This allowed her a perception beforehand of this girl’s life although she says “I haven’t had any girls confessing their love for teachers” which is the flaw of her inherent character. Shay Mitchell, who plays Emily, says that when she auditioned she hadn’t read any of the books but read them as they shot the pilot. She says that she fully embraced her character’s style as an Adidas model but hopes to have her in heels by the end of the season.
ABC Studios’ “Off The Map” takes into possibility the infrastructure created by the recently retired “Lost” imbuing a new medical show set in the jungles of South America spearheaded by powerhouse showrunner Shonda Rhimes.
Rhimes admits that there was alot of resources left over from “Lost”. What got her interested was the voice of Jenna Bans who had served as producer with her on “Grey” while she continually spearheads new shows including one revolving around a fixer set in Washington D.C. That new show (which is in development) follows an intelligence specialist which Rhimes describes as a “crisis manager” and is loosely based on a woman named Judy Smith.
Bans, for her part, speaks that with “Off The Map”, what strikes her most about these specific characters is that none of them are at the top of their game. They all need to start over and, at a character level, “you are beginning with a huge difference”. In her eyes, the jungle is their pharmacy and they don’t have technology at their disposal and, because of this, they can “delve into stories that no one else can really do”. As a writer, she says she started writing to the chemistry onscreen that you see offscreen. She sees the series as a mix of action/adventure and comedy but also with a political twist creating what she calls “a nice blend”.
When Bans was researching the project and talking to doctors in the US, she says she came across alot of physicians where their private practice was their day job but their hobby was going away to these countries to do this. The village in the series is not completely far away from an actual commerce center but is completely surrounded by alot of remote villages. With supplies 10 hours or so away by vehicle, different substitutions must be made like using coconut milk as a substitute for fluids (which she says is done in third world countries). Episode to episode, she says they will not make the gore too gratuitous. The zipline material in the first episode will be the most extreme. Bans continues that there are different ways of practicing medicine which is what struck her and got her excited about the show.
The different doctors bring their different functions into play with brevity. Zach Gilford, who plays Dr. Fuller, says that sometimes on TV, one can be pigeonholed into a certain character base forever but, with a show like this, that stretched the possibilities, the rules are different because “you get to see different parts of the island and places you would never find”. Martin Henderson, most known for his role in the film “The Ring”, says that “to find a group of people that get on well is unique whether it was a conscious effort or not” but adds “that it is fortuitous and translates” on camera which Mamie Gummer, who plays Dr. Minard, admits “mirrors the characters”.
While not surprising, the new TV approaches in the Spring season have a decidely genre bent with some hits and misses. Caprica leads the pack with a sense of history which makes it undeniably poignant while Modern Family takes a real bent approach to humor. “Justified” and “Human Target” have Elmore Leonard and DC Comics backgrounds respectively but still need to find their true voices while “Legend Of The Seeker” trails behind simply because the way it was conceived falls in a smaller and retreatable category, by no production fault of its own. Clear cut elements and effective programming possibilities.
Caprica The essence with a spin-off is creating a crux of tension that feels dexterious which is not easy after making something as layered as “Battlestar” no matter how convoluted the ending might have become. The reality here is just the opposite. The aspect of terrorism is brought to the home arena. The structure is ingenious at times though perhaps a bit overplayed. The entire progression balances the ideas of two fathers and two daughters. The paradox is existing one side in real life and the other in an artificial reality. Alessandra Torresani who plays a girl whose ghost is trapped in one of her father’s creation gives a very distinct vision of what happens later. It becomes a tale of revenge of one angry girl which will eventually bring down an entire civilization. The reality is that this simplistic vision weighed more complex by everything around it makes this an apt companion piece for “Battlestar” though it takes a bit more insight.
Human Target Christopher Chance is like the Indiana Jones for the 80s sect. While not as purely intellectual as someone like Henry Jones Jr., he does have his uses though the standards become a bit brutish. The good angle is that with exec producer McG behind the wheel, it has a good feeling of maintaining a certain throughline. This is based on the fact that if it was just Mark Valley, formerly of “Fringe”, the series would not have legs. it is the inclusion of Chi McBride (late of “Pushing Daisies”) and the irrepressable Jackie Early that gives this team a bit of the lopsided “A-Team” vibe though a bit more dysfunctional. Some of the interactions specifically between Valley and a female FBI agent that he keeps screwing over have a nice cadence to them while other stories (like that of a washed up wrestler) seem quickly pushed together. The great element is that CG makes it possible to show global hopping without actually doing it. McG understands production value and the necessity of the audience’s beliefs of where they are. So far the show has done a good job of maintaining the status quo.
Justified After the show (initially called “Lawman”) had to give up that title to a recently defunct show, the odds seemed a bit stacked against it in specific order. However, the pedigree of Elmore Leonard would seem to play to that end. While Timothy Olymphant’s Raylan is bad in most essences, the one thing that seems to be missing at times from this series is Leonard’s trademark ice wit. While traces of it remain, one hopes the ante is increased in specific order. Certain angles like a judge with a penchant for back alley fun behind the cowboy saloon show that this structuree is not completely lost. Graham Yost, who wrote “Speed”, keeps the show on track but the velocity though workable needs to settle in gear and speed up.
Legend Of The Seeker The texture of this series unlike its similar younger sister is more in the frameset of “Xena”. Using the same structure and the backdrop, it is effective for sword and scorcery but for the overall tangent of the love story and the quest, the problem becomes one of two much verbage and not enough substance. The constant element of the “Mother Confessor” and certain other slang simply does not bely the actual narrative. When the series gets into the simple dark drama, it does alright but like the ill-fated “Flash Gordon” series, the problem becomes emotional connectability which beyond certain moment with Kara, the would-be Xena clone, the drive of the series does not overconnect. Also with the open arena of pay cable moving into this genre with both HBO and Starz working the series, the saturation is encroaching. Spartacus: Blood & Sand” by Renaissance, the same production company and producer in Rob Tappert and Sam Raimi understand the marketplace which makes it all the more interesting since ABC Studios (the same one behind “Lost”) didn’t put it on an ABC affiliate but rather syndicated it.
Modern Family The key is making a mockumentary based reverse-comedy sitcom is the saturation of the market. The Office did it first understanding the necessity of slapstick and true drama but had at times a lack of connection. “Parks & Recreation” is set in a surreal world but has begun to find its connections but still within a singles ravaged environment. What “Modern Family” has, despite some pacing issues, is a different approach in regards to family. What is interesting to note is that when played against this different backdrop, the stakes are obviously higher and a little bit more almost somber despite their obvious jabs at humor. Whether it is the father being lured to adultery by a former girlfriend or a mother trying to show off her children to a former female competitor to a remarried older man trying to find a balance between his overweight Latino stepson and his gay life-partnered son, the drama that unfolds is real and persistent which gives it a basis. While not difficult to watch, the idea is that it plays so close to the bone that the approach might be too much for some viewers.