Category: "TV/Movies"

Rating Pilots: Doing TV Execs Jobs for Them

  05:52:00 pm, by Jeancey   , 540 words  
Viewed 4321 times since 02/12/14
Categories: TV/Movies, Web

Amazon Studios, which is the studio half of Amazon Instant Video, released 10 new pilots last week for everyone to watch, rate, and choose from. This is part of their new strategy to replace TV, but more importantly, replace Netflix as the hub of all original internet TV programming.  What makes Amazon's strategy different is that instead of having executives decide what the consumer wants, Amazon is letting the consumers decide for themselves. There are many issues solved by this, but also several problems raised as well.

The first issue solved by creating TV shows this way is that it is much, much more cost effective.  Instead of finding out that the show you spent millions of dollars creating is terrible and no one likes it as soon as it is released, Amazon can find out that no one likes the concept for just tens of thousand dollars, the cost of a single episode. Likewise, once it finds a show that people like, they can be assured that the show will then do well, as everyone has already commented on it. This will allow them to produce more popular shows than Netflix or any of the traditional TV studios.

The second issue solved by doing this is that it allows for more variety for the consumer to choose from. Because the cost of a single episode is so low, Amazon can produce many pilots when Netflix can only produce one or two full new shows in a given year. This means that if the consumer doesn't like one of Netflix's new shows, they are out of luck, but if they don't like one of Amazon's pilots, they have another nine to choose from. This variety could also allow for shows that traditionally haven't done well in prime time to find a place to come into their own and thrive. Genres like steampunk could find a home here. Also (and why this is somewhat relevant to the blog) video game based TV shows could be created, whereas in the mainstream TV world, they would never get passed the pitch table.

One of the problems that is newly created by this format would be actor availability. Let's say you shoot a pilot with Actor A.  That shooting takes place, a month later the pilot is released to the public, two months of ratings and commentings and then the pilot is greenlit as a full show.  In the three months since Actor A shot the pilot, he has now been cast in a large movie production and your star actor from the pilot is no longer available to shoot a full TV season. This can be mitigated somewhat by drafting a preliminary contract for the actor before shooting the pilot, but that would defeat one of the purposes of the pilot to the people format, being able to quickly and cheaply cut shows which don't do well without spending large amounts of money on them.

While these aren't the only issues solved by this format, nor is this problem the only one raised by it, Amazon Studios has certainly found an extremely unique way of getting its product to the masses.  You can read a review of several of the new TV pilots here.

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Firefly and other things

  07:08:19 pm, by Damon   , 613 words  
Viewed 120582 times since 03/05/13
Categories: TV/Movies

Why are all the good TV shows always cancelled?

I heard of a show called "Firefly" about Mal Reynolds and his crew of a ship called Serenity. The series follows the lives of the crew after it's been altered by the joining of two siblings, Simon and River Tam, portrayed by Sean Maher and Summer Glau respectively.

To quote Wikipedia's article (and save my lazy self the work of writing a synopsis:

Firefly is an American space western drama television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. Whedon served as an executive producer, along with Tim Minear.

The series is set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system, and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a "Firefly-class" spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as "nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things". The show explores the lives of some people who fought on the losing side of a civil war and others who now make a living on the outskirts of society, as part of the pioneer culture that exists on the fringes of their star system. In addition, it is a future where the only two surviving superpowers, the United States and China, fused to form the central federal government, called the Alliance, resulting in the fusion of the two cultures. According to Whedon's vision, "nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today".

It's a really intelligent and well written show, and I love how it flawlessly integrates the "Wild West" and Sci-Fi concepts. There's nothing more entertaining than seeing the crew of Serenity race to their ship on horseback while firing lazer guns that resemble the shotguns and revolvers of the period. It's a great show worth watching, and don't get me started on Serenity, the 2005 movie continuation of the one season show.

As to the opening question: It's rather depressing how the "smart" shows are seldom watched and end up cancelled, whereas the... Let's find a blog friendly way to say this... Rather loose and friendly ladies of Jersey Shore get renewed year after year. Where's the entertainment in that? I can't see it, and I am very upset at how the television of today is. The only "current" show I watch is Criminal Minds (and even then, I forget to watch it 3-4 weeks in a row at a time), and I'm left to the shows of old, such as Firefly, Red Dwarf, Lie to Me, Damian Lewis's short lived police drama "Life".

Anyways, to a second topic, since I have a load to ramble about, and I've been lazy about writing the past month, since I've been busy:

I am a BIG fan of the Finnish "love metal" (that's how they classify themselves) band HIM, and ska band Streetlight Manifesto, and for a shorter lesser important note, I found out that both have albums marked for release on 30 April. (Tears on Tape and The Hands That Thieve, respectively).

To be honest, I'll admit that's the whole note. Whatever. It's a shameless plug for two good bands, and I'll throw in a song I like from each one for good measure. Here is HIM's cover of Ke's Strange World, which they recently released, and here is some amazingly good cellphone video of an awesome song from The Hands That Thieve that Streetlight Manifesto did live:

That's the ramblings of me... See you all later :p

A Game Worth Watching

  03:37:05 pm, by   , 859 words  
Viewed 18072 times since 03/05/11
Categories: TV/Movies, Hobbies

I think it was about 18 months ago, or it might have been even longer, that Timenn and I were chatting in IRC about books. It turned out we both share similar interests in fiction so were swapping titles to give each other a few new items for their wish list. I think I recommended Adrian Tchaikovsky's (then new) series Shadows of the Apt - and I recommend it to anyone who likes good fantasy novels - and in return, he suggested George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series.

Somehow, I'd never heard of this guy, and I have to confess that after a couple of searches had informed me that he was known as "The American Tolkien", my heart sank. I love J. R. R. Tolkien's stuff. I got a copy of The Hobbit on my 11th birthday. I know this for a fact because my copy has the message "For Robert on his 11th birthday & for passing to L.R.G.S. 26/4/84, From your father and mother - We hope it will not be too hobbit-forming!" Unfortunately, this last hope proved false, because Tolkien was to prove hugely habit-forming over the years. Since then, I've read Lord of the Rings over 30 times, learned huge chunks of The Silmarillion by heart, read all the Unfinished Tales and every other book Christopher Tolkien released, and generally become a bit of a Middle Earth nerd - although not, I must emphasise, enough of a nerd to learn Elvish. The reason I mention this is not just to establish my nerdly credentials, but to help you understand why somebody described as a Tolkien has got a hell of a lot to live up to.

It doesn't take you long to realise that the comparison is total rubbish. It always is. Whenever anybody is described as "The New X", it's merely lazy journalism. Lionel Messi is not "The New Maradonna", Wayne Rooney never was "The New Michael Owen", and George Martin isn't "The New Tolkien". He and Tolkien both write rather good fantasy novels, but that's all they have in common - apart from the two "R"s in their initials. When I read A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series, I was impressed. A lot of fantasy books seem to have been written from a cliché checklist: ancient fight between good and evil? check; low-born character eventually saving everything? check; improbable love interest? check. Many books fall into the trap of thinking they're mysteries, so we get sudden plot twists for no good reason. This isn't necessary: was anybody really expecting Frodo would fail to destroy the ring, or that Harry would fail to kill Voldemort? An ending that you're expecting isn't a Bad Thing by default - a book is about the journey, not the ending.

Anyway, so the books were good. That's not why I'm writing this. The point is that the books have been made into a ten-part TV series on HBO called Game of Thrones after the first book. For once, we can see it in the UK with only a 24-hour delay instead of the usual months or years, but only if you subscribe to Sky Atlantic. Obviously, if you don't subscribe it would be totally wrong to download the episodes using BitTorrent from the huge number of sources that appear within minutes of the program ending on Sunday evenings (US time).

The series gained a lot of hype on the Internet, and when you see the sort of clips that were released ahead of time, it's not difficult to see why. It stars Emperor Martin Boromir Sean Bean, who gives a typically good performance as Lord Ned Stark. A lot of the other cast members are British too, the locations are all in Europe (Ireland and Malta, mainly), which raises the question "Why can't the bloody BBC make stuff like this?" Unlike most of the BBC's output these days, which seems to target the 10-15 age bracket and hopes that adults will be interested too, Game of Thrones sets out its stall from the first moments as Adults Only. After about ten minutes of the first show, the corpse count is already in double figures and we've had two beheadings. That's not even the most outré moment, the award for which probably goes to a scene where a dwarf is in bed with four naked prostitutes. Yup, this isn't for the children. Now I'm not advocating sex and violence for the sake of sex and violence. It's just good to see a program that doesn't set out to be safe for once. The disregard for safety can be felt in the story too. It doesn't take long before you have three or four different stories all progressing at the same time. Too many films and TV shows assume that the audience can barely follow one story, so this is a major departure.

I've waited until three episodes have come out before saying anything because I wanted to make sure that the quality stayed high. So far, so good. If you don't watch this program, you're missing a real gem.


  01:21:35 am, by   , 968 words  
Viewed 8359 times since 18/02/11
Categories: TV/Movies

I'm British. That makes this a difficult admission, but frankly it's impossible to hold out any longer. Americans make better TV than we do.

This probably won't come as any great shock to the majority of people reading this, but it's only within my lifetime that the change has come about. While I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s, American TV consisted of the Dukes of Hazard, Dallas and Dynasty. American TV was renowned for its bad acting and general awfulness. Of course, there was always Star Trek, but that was also badly-acted... it was the special effects that made it stand out (believe it or not).

In Britain, our TV was generally cheaper but better-acted. We had seminal crime series like Z-Cars, original soap-operas like Coronation Street, and most importantly (from my point of view), outstanding Sci-Fi like Quatermass and Doctor Who.

The last couple of decades haven't been kind to British TV. Sure, we've kept our lead in comedy with series like A Bit of Fry and Laurie and The Office taking up the baton from Q and Monty Python's Flying Circus, but in almost every other respect we've fallen badly behind.

The most obvious decline is in Sci-Fi. We led the world. The early episodes of Doctor Who were utterly ground-breaking, and other series took up the baton and ran with pride. We could even do Sci-Fi/Comedy crossovers like Red Dwarf and make those brilliant too. Meanwhile, though, America was plotting. First came the... well let's call it "patchy" Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. These were programs that were more about effects than writing - par for the course in American TV at the time. That was in 1979-81, and then there was a bit of a gap. On this side of The Pond, Doctor Who was still going strong, and we had things like Space 1999 around then too. Then came the various "tech" series like Knight Rider, Street Hawk and Automan that weren't really Sci-Fi but were close enough to keep me happy. Except for Automan, which was rubbish.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and in 1988 came Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was round about here that the tide started to turn. At the same time ST:TNG was stumbling through its first - and let's be honest, pretty awful - series, Doctor Who was dying a death due to bad writing and lack of interest from BBC executives. When Sylvester McCoy left the screen in 1989 it looked like the Doctor was gone for good. Star Trek, however, started to get good. Once things had settled down and they stopped trying to remake old Trek episodes, we were treated to some decent stories. With Patrick Stewart came exceptional acting, and the writers started to take advantage. When ST:TNG ended after seven seasons in 1994, American Sci-Fi was going strong.

Even though TNG had finished there was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, almost certainly the best Trek series. There was Star Trek: Voyager, a testament to missed opportunities but still worth watching in places. There was the X-Files, often overlooked in the annals of sci-fi, but sci-fi nonetheless. Later came Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly; three utterly fantastic bits of sci-fi writing. Add in Babylon 5 and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and the other stuff I've missed out, and you have some seriously good TV.

In the UK, we had... err... nothing.

It wasn't until 2005, when Doctor Who was taken out of the deep freeze, that we started making SF again. Then, of course, the BBC basically attached a milking machine to the still-defrosting teat and sucked the franchise for all it could give: not just Doctor Who, but Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, K-9, Doctor Who Confidential and Totally Doctor Who. It's a credit to the writers that the output has remained broadly decent despite the pressure.

This has all been a long-winded way of saying that the BBC has made a new Sci-Fi series, and it's called "Outcasts". And it's bloody awful.

Fans of the re-imagined BSG will recognise Jamie Bamber in the first episode, and might start to hope that the series will be as good as that one. It's not. It's boring, dry, humourless and generally awful. The lowlight of the first episode is a point where a character gives a speech to the crew of an incoming transporter and they applaud him instead of vomiting loudly into the zero-G sick bags. I suppose the writer (Ben Richards) had to give himself a round of applause because everybody else was facepalming instead.

Instead of BSG's tense, taught plot we have a flabby series of events that are only loosely linked from one episode to the next. Some of the acting is right back in Star Trek days for sheer awfulness, and the sets look like they were lashed together from material found lying around in a nearby skip.

What really annoys me is that I have to keep watching. If the BBC is going to start making proper SF again - and I want it to do so - it needs viewers. The ratings for Outcasts have been very bad so far, and even though the first series ends on a cliffhanger (apparently - I've heard it does but I don't know for sure) there's no guarantee of a second series. What's worse is that if this program tanks, there's less of an incentive to make any more SF.

So to all Brits: watch the damn thing. If you've missed it so far, catch up on the iPlayer. Even if you don't watch it, just download it to boost the viewing figures. The UK can be a world leader in SF again, but we have to get through this first.

What an Elliot Does

  07:12:29 pm, by Elliot   , 308 words  
Viewed 11598 times since 10/10/09
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Misc, TV/Movies, Sports, Hobbies

Hey there readers! In order to keep up with the minor tradition, here is what I am playing at the moment.

  • Nothing!

I know, it is rather upsetting, but my 360 received the infamous red ring of death way back in March. I haven't been able to get a new one, but I plan to mooch one off of my parents for my upcoming birthday this week.

So to provide more insight into how I play games, here is my Top 10 list:

  1. Mass Effect
  2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  3. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
  4. Kingdom Hearts
  5. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
  6. Bioshock
  7. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  8. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  9. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
  10. Halo: Combat Evolved

Yeah... I don't necessarily go outside my comfort zone in video games much. Mass Effect is my top because of the depth of the game, and the fact that I nerd out hard to space fantasy (SG-1/SGU anyone?). Also, the combat game is beyond fluid, so it is comparable to reading a book. Of course, TES games are on there as well, except Arena (because it sucks). I have always been a fan of the Zelda series, even though it does predate me. And last, Halo is a great game, and the story in the first one is exceptionally done.

So more about me. I am a huge sports fan: the Colts, Pacers, Fever, Carl Edwards, and Michael Phelps are my favorites in their respective areas. I can basically watch all of the with the same enthusiasm, so I don't have a favorite except the NFL. So I might make some sports posts if people show interest (but most people who like video games and wikis... don't like sports :p ).

So that is basically my generic Welcome post, hope you enjoy reading in the future!