Okay, now that the Executive Session is out of the way, let’s get into the show-specific panels.
So You Think You Can Dance: Proving yet again that I’m not the target demographic for reality shows, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a full episode of this series…or, if I have, it was almost certainly one of the first episodes of a season, solely so that I could get a laugh out of the auditions by the various not-ready-for-prime-time dancers from around the country. Those of you who are fans, however, will probably be impressed by the fact that we were gifted with performances by Matt and Kourtni as well as Thayne. Heck, I’m not even a fan, and I was impressed by their moves.
As to the comments made during the panel, the only one that really caught my ear occurred when Nigel Lythgoe was asked if he thought that America ever got it wrong when voting off contestants.
“From my point of view, the public often gets it wrong…on this program and ‘American Idol,'” he said. “At the end of the day, they sort of put things right; it’s along the way they get things wrong. It’s like losing Tamyra Gray or something. But at the end of the day, Kelly Clarkson justly deserved to win. With dancers, it’s the same. I think we’ve lost some really good dancers along the way, but at the end of the day, when you look at Benji and you look at Travis and you think one’s a brilliant dancer and one’s a brilliant performer, the brilliant performer won. Last year, brilliant performer in Sabra and her whole story. Brilliant dancer in Danny. Sabra won. I have never seen the best dancers necessarily win ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ Personalities have got so much to do with it, as in any form of competition on television. It’s about your charisma. What’s the difference between a brilliant actor and a star? Charisma.”
Well, I’ll just close with the comment I made in a Facebook update I posted during the panel: I don’t really care anything about “So You Think You Can Dance,” but I could watch and listen to Cat Deeley all day…and while I can’t readily provide you with a soundbite, I can at least provide a picture:
Fringe: J.J. Abrams, creator of “Lost,” comes to Fox with his mysterious new show which – you may or may not be pleased to know – is nowhere near as impenetrable as the series for which he’s most recognized. Bill Harris and I were discussing it, and I was considering approaching Abrams and saying, “Hi, I watched ‘Fringe,’ and…I was able to follow it. Are things okay at home?” Bill’s plan, meanwhile, was to indicate to Abrams that he wasn’t at all confused while watching the pilot, then ask, “Is this a problem with me or with you?” In the end, neither of us asked our questions, mostly because Abrams tackled head-on the issue of his shows being problematic for casual viewers.
“I was at my friend Greg Grunberg’s house years ago, it was sort of a bad day, and ‘Alias’ was on,” said Abrams. “I watched a few minutes, and I was so confused. It was impenetrable. I was, like, ‘I know I should understand this, but…who the fuck is that guy?’ Literally, I saw the show from that place. ‘Lost’ has garnered a certain reputation for being a very complicated show and one you have to watch every episode. ‘Fringe’ is, in many ways, an experiment for us. We believe it is possible to do a show that does have an overall story and end game, which ‘Fringe’ absolutely does. We can do a show so that there’s a direction the show is going and there’s an ultimate story that’s being told, but also a show that you don’t have to watch Episodes 1, 2 and 3 to tune in to Episode 4. ‘Alias’ had the craziest storyline, where she was a good guy working for the bad guys, but the bad guys were pretending they were good guys, and it was definitely a show that, while I so loved working on it and miss it, I can see how it was difficult. This show is going to have a different sort of paradigm. Week to week, there will be stories. So you can tune in and just watch that, but there will be, over the course of seasons and then the series itself, bigger arcs of stories. We’re trying very diligently to do a show that doesn’t require the kind of insane, absolute dedication to a series that, if you miss an episode, you truly have no idea what’s going on…but, hopefully, you want to see every episode because they’ll be exciting and fun.”
Alex Kurztman, executive producer, added a bit to Abrams’ remarks, saying, “There will always be an ‘in’ to whatever the particular episode is. It’s kind of the thing that grabs you and sucks you in, and that’s the mystery of the episode. Then the investigation forms, (and that’s) the basis of the episode.”
Yeah, but what’s the show about? Let’s go to the press release.
“When an international flight lands at Boston’s Logan Airport with no signs of life, FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is called in to investigate as part of an inter-agency task force. After her partner, Special Agent John Scott (Mark Valley), is nearly killed during the investigation, a desperate Olivia searches frantically for someone to help, leading her to Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), our generation’s Einstein. There’s only one catch: he’s been institutionalized for the last 17 years, and the only way to question him requires pulling his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) in to help. When Olivia’s investigation leads to multi-billion dollar corporation Massive Dynamic and its manipulative corporate executive, Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), our unlikely trio, along with Department of Homeland Security Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) and FBI Agents Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) and Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), will discover that what happened on Flight 627 is only a small piece of a larger, more shocking truth.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what can we really expect?
Well, between Abrams, Kurtzman, and their fellow executive producers, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, and Bryan Burk, we received points of comparison (or points of inspiration, anyway) which included David Cronenberg and “Altered States,” David Lynch and “Twin Peaks,” Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, “The Twilight Zone,” “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” and “The X-Files.” Given that there’s not a name in that bunch that doesn’t make me raise an eyebrow with curiosity (and given that it also reminds me favorable of the late, great CBS sci-fi series, “Threshold”), I think we can count on “Fringe” getting a season pass on my TiVo, at least.
Do Not Disturb: You always appreciate it when a sitcom’s title gives you a perfect straight line, so let me just say in response, “Don’t worry, we won’t.” I was perhaps one of the few fans of Jerry O’Connell’s previous series, “Carpoolers,” and hearing that Jason Bateman directed the pilot episode of this hotel-based sitcom, I walked in ready to love it, but sweet Jiminy Christmas, this thing sucked so much that it might as well have been sponsored by Oreck.
I know we’re not supposed to treat these screening discs as final product, and you can rest assured that I will definitely keep an open mind whenever I do get the final product, but as to my reaction from this rough cut…well, first off, I don’t think I laughed a single time during the first third of the episode. Not a bad thing for a drama, but a comedy…? Oh, dear. As it progressed, I think I chuckled once or twice at something O’Connell said, but it was because of his delivery rather than the dialogue itself; similarly, the appearance of the great Robert Wagner as the owner of the hotel was a breath of fresh air, and if I truly laughed out loud at any point (and I can’t actually remember doing so, but, then, I’ve blocked out a lot of the experience), then it’s a fair bet that it was at something Wagner said…but, again, it would’ve been totally because of him rather than the material. Otherwise, the characters couldn’t possibly be any more cliched: sassy black woman, ditzy / bitchy blonde, semi-flamboyant gay man, and a heavyset girl who’s beautiful on the inside.
Creator Abraham Higginbotham was asked how he was planning to walk the line between mining laughs from certain conventions and crossing the line to reinforce stereotypes and find the laughter in the middle of the two.
“I think that what you do is walk that line and have fun with it,” he said. “Walk the line of what is inappropriate. Walk the line of what is stereotypical. There are some stereotypes in this room including myself, you know, in certain areas of my life. They exist and they can be fun when exploited with the right light on them, you know. Part of the fun that I like to have as a writer, personally, is telling the truth of what we see when we look at someone. You know what I mean? You know when you’re talking to a black woman. You know when you’re talking to a gay man. You know when you’re talking to a pretty blonde girl. You know when you’re talking to an Asian girl. You know in your mind something is registering. And just writing to those walls right up to that wall where we’re saying, ‘What are you actually seeing? What are you actually seeing on the surface and what’s happening behind that?'”
Well, from that rough cut I watched, it seemed suspiciously like there was nothing happening behind that, but I guess we’ll see for sure in the fall. Fox is pairing this with “‘Til Death,” a sitcom which has survived inappropriate pairings before, but as it stands right now, if I was Brad Garrett and Joely Garrett, I’d be asking Fox, “So, what, do you want us to fail?”