Monday, March 31, 2008

Dr. House, LLB

I might be the only David Shore fan who hadn't seen this yet, but it's one of the better profiles of the House creator. Shinan Govani of the National Post just quoted from last issue's University of Toronto alumni magazine, tipping me off to its existence:
David Shore, the Canuck behind TV’s House, says this of his alter-ego, Hugh Laurie ... : ‘‘I like to think that he is a bigger asshole than I am. I like to think that I’m not an ­asshole.”
(I've edited the full expletives back in, since this is not a family newspaper. And of course he was not referring to Hugh Laurie but Dr. House.) I have to say, I had no intention of approaching Shore at the Banff World Television Festival a couple of years ago, given his self-described reputation as a socially acceptable version of House and his definite air of unapproachability. However, he was absolutely unassholeish in our eventual 30-second interaction there. So, you know, that's irrefutable proof.

Anyway, The House That Dave Built by Stacey Gibson has lots of familiar detail but some new information, as well as Shore's Housian humour and insight that hits on my hot button of the philosophical underpinnings of the show:
“In many ways I don’t consider this a medical show…. The things that interest me in the show are the philosophical things. When House goes on, it’s rarely about medicine, it’s about the nature of right and wrong."

“There is a philosophical bent to the show, an opportunity to speak about life and how to live life,” continues Shore, who is married with three children. “I think good shows always deal with ethical dilemmas and ethical questions. Good dramas are usually about throwing your characters into situations where, do you turn right or do you turn left? And something bad will happen if you turn right and something bad will happen if you turn left – which one’s worse? This show has a lot of these moments, which is a great opportunity, but it also has chances for my personal perspective on the world.” He pauses. “God, that sounds terrible.”
Maclean's magazine columnist and blogger Jaime Weinman, whose freakish knowledge of all things television frightens me (I mean that as a compliment), occasionally writes "Better know a writing staff" posts, something I wish I'd thought of first. I'm sure House is on his to-do list (um, right Jaime?), and when he does it, maybe he can confirm or add to the ex-lawyer count. I've got Shore, David Hoselton, and Peter Blake. Doctor writers? One: David Foster. (Plus three or so medical advisors but shush, I'm trying to make a point about the writing staff here.)

While I'm not quite ready to distance it from the medical show genre, I think it's absolutely fitting that the lawyers outnumber the doctors. I've long said House acts like a defense attorney for his patients. Many of his ethical lapses result from his cockeyed attempt to represent their interests even against the greater good, whether they're "guilty"/undeserving or "innocent"/deserving. Those arguments between House and the other characters or House and the established medical system lead to wonderful grey areas when the show delves into transplant ethics, patient autonomy and consent, rationality against emotion, personal responsibility, the nature of right versus wrong, and all that juicy stuff.

The medical stories may be the skeleton, and Hugh Laurie the soul, but the pseudo-legal framework is the brain driving House.

And to be clear, House is not always right in the philosophical arena, even if he's almost always eventually right in the medical. You could watch the series and lap up his philosophy as if you're being spoon-fed his view of the world and expected to ignore the secondary characters' objections ... until you hit an episode like "No Reason" that forces you to realize, as Shore said in his Banff talk, that House's philosophy can and should be challenged:
"I created this character, and I love him, and you might think I'm saying, yeah, we should all be like that. No! We actually shouldn't be like that. The finale was almost me talking to myself about this character I created. I love House, but the other guy had some good points."
It's hard not to be on House's side when that's the prevailing point of view, and when this infuriatingly brilliant and unfathomably likeable character presents that view so compellingly, but it's a far more satisfying viewing experience for the audience to act as judge instead of substituting House's judgement - or Shore's - for our own. Like, transplant guidelines are there for a reason, and a patient's right to choose and to know is sacrosanct, and sometimes it's more important how you say something than what you say, and empathy and compassion are underrated (I'll give him humanity being overrated, though).

In the UofT article, Shore says: “I wanted to be a lawyer from the time I was 12 years old until the second week of law school.” Yet it seems like it was perfect training for creating the series that was to eventually put him on the cover of his alma mater's alumni magazine.

PaleyFest: Friday Night Lights and Judd Apatow

I finally wrote something up about my experiences at this year's PaleyFest in LA. It was hard to write about, since while I had a blast as a behind-the-scenes TV geek, I'm not a huge fan of either session subject I attended. So that's basically what I wrote about - being an outsider at a very inside event:

Deleted Scenes:

I ended up deleting large chunks of this one, since I found myself writing more of a recap than I wanted. But consider this a DVD extra if you're interested in a few more tidbits, since I'd already scribbled these notes before cutting:

Friday Night Lights

I had something in there about moderator Michael Ausiello being mercifully far less obnoxious and fawning than he is on the TV Guide site, but it seemed mean. Not too mean for here, though.

Since the writers strike cut the season short, meaning the show's football season was also cut short, Katims said a third season would probably start with a new football season. However, some personal stories that should have been wrapped up with the football season will carry over in order to give fans closure. He wants to focus on football more next season since he felt the criticism was right, that it was lost too much in the truncated season two.

Without stating point blank that cast members are expendable, Katims made it clear that, well, they are. The Panthers are the focus, so as team members graduate, other characters will need to be introduced, and Scott Porter stepped in to say that the cast were aware from the beginning that if the show were to run for several seasons, they were not guaranteed to stick around for the duration.

Judd Apatow

For years, I'd had an unfairly bad impression about Apatow as a person after reading an angry exchange between him and Mark Brazill of That 70s Show. But re-reading it now, I discover I'd conflated the players in that little drama. It was a shrill and petty Brazill who thinks "get cancer" is a witty insult and Apatow who was initially conciliatory and always funny. That makes me even happier for Apatow's recent megasuccess, if just out of spite. Hearing his colleagues praise his supportiveness and the pleasant atmosphere on his sets only strengthened that feeling of ... what's the opposite of Schadenfreude? ... even though I'm not a huge fan of his films.

The most telling theme was Apatow's quest for world domination, or at least domination over his own creative works. Apatow explained that he turned to producing as a way to retain control over his material. Jason Segel recounted Apatow's years-long attempts to get members of his de facto repertoire into leading roles, and recent relief at finally being allowed to cast Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Apatow pointed out that his persistence by that point had very little to do with Segel, and everything to do with wanting to be proven right. Now he says he can rest easy (but shouldn't he wait for the box office of Forgetting Sarah Marshall?)

As producer, Apatow's imprint is clear on the movies he doesn't write. After an audience question, Seth Rogen testified to the nurturing hand that could also be the boss's dictate when it came to script revisions, making it apparent that Superbad, for example, or the upcoming Pineapple Express were very much shaped by Apatow as well as credited writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

A pregnant Busy Philipps was the token female on the panel. She compared ER and particularly Dawson's Creek very unfavourably with the working conditions on Freaks and Geeks. She came up with the premise for Blades of Glory – she has story credit on the screenplay – and said it was an "idea waiting to be discovered."

Shandling and Apatow made the un-PC pronouncement that only Jews are funny, so when Tom Arnold started rambling, Shandling made a comment about him not being Jewish. Arnold countered that he is, Apatow pointed out that he'd converted to marry Roseanne so it didn't really count, but Arnold said his mother was Jewish anyway. So apparently they can't claim that all Jews are funny, then. (Though I have to say I've found Arnold bizarrely charming and funny in the past – he seems to have lost it somewhere along the way.)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Waiting for TV's Great Leap Forward

Stuck in the limbo of new episodes of my favourites on the horizon but not yet within reach, I've been feeling some uncharacteristic sympathy for the TV industry lately. I'm sure it will pass soon enough, like last night's indigestion, but in the meantime, it's made me ponder the difficult task it has in recapturing an enthusiastic audience after a lackluster fall and the writers strike disruption. I won't even think about the possibility of an actors strike for fear of extending this discomfiting empathy.

With a truncated pilot season due to the strike, Fall 2008 is predicted to be something of a mulligan for Fall 2007. Networks will attempt to relaunch some of this season's series that neither really caught on nor really got a chance to catch on because of being cut short by the strike. They'll still also launch some new series that will fight to grab an audience before they can grab the remote. Thanks in part to the strike, though, they'll experiment with fewer pilots in an attempt to streamline the bafflingly inefficient process, and this gives me both hope and trepidation.

I recently talked to someone who was admonished by TV insider types for only giving a show one try before deciding it wasn’t for him, an attitude that happily causes my sympathy to dissolve. Because guess what? That’s all you get out here in the real world. If you’re lucky. Most viewers will hit that remote before the first commercial break if you haven’t grabbed them.

I knew House was the acerbically twisted show for me a minute into the introduction of Hugh Laurie's character with the line: “Brain tumour. She’s gonna die. Boring.” I knew Pushing Daisies was the whimsically twisted show for me with the first-minute death and resurrection of Digby, the dog who was "3 years, 2 weeks, 6 days, 5 hours and 9 minutes old ... and not a minute older."

Some current favourites, like The Office and 30 Rock, had enough humour and character in them to counter my initial doubts and make me stick with them until they found their firmer footing. Very occasionally I’ll come back to a disappointing show if I hear of its improvement. No amount of lunatic fan raving would get me into Jericho after being lukewarm on the premise, but I did go back to Grey’s Anatomy after a tedious start (and then broke up with it again after a couple of seasons, but that’s a different point).

So again, my sympathy comes from series creators having to deal with fans like me, who aren't going to give them a month of my TV viewing time to settle in. They've got 60 minutes, if that, and even I couldn't tell them what I'm looking for in my next TV obsession.

After the misery of this chaotic, underwhelming season, maybe it's not sympathy for the industry I'm really feeling. Maybe it's simply a selfish hope that they'll get it right next season and save us from the indifferent new series and reality fare we're currently stuck with. Even as I'm waiting for the next episodes of the real House and Pushing Daisies, I'm ready for the next House or Pushing Daisies to come along. Canterbury's Law and Miss Guided just aren't doing it for me. Don't even get me started on Moment of Truth or American Gladiators.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

TV Amnesia

Now that new, post-strike episodes are returning to TV, I almost feel sorry for the networks as they fret over whether viewers will return as well. Why my sympathy? Because they have to contend with viewers like me.

The kind of fan who goes to the Internet to read or write about a show is not representative of the average audience. Most people are more casual viewers; I'm somewhere in between. My two can't miss shows this season are House and Pushing Daisies. Oh, I love The Office and 30 Rock, and I watch other shows too, but they'll either pile up on the DVR until I'm in the mood, or they're wallpaper while I'm home doing other things, or I catch up on DVD, either because I don't get the channel they're on or because I haven't made time during the season.

But House and Pushing Daisies are the two shows I track and watch as they air or as soon as possible afterwards, and pay full attention to while I watch. So imagine my surprise this week to discover that I had missed the final episode of Pushing Daisies and hadn't even realized it.

I’ll admit I’ve been less than attuned to the TV world lately, and pre-Christmas was an especially busy time for me, but this shakes my confidence in my TV geekdom. How could I have lost track? I knew there were nine episodes completed. I was following strike news enough to have seen countless lists about when final episodes would air. It even would have been on my PVR, but I must have thought I’d watched it and deleted it. So many lapses must have happened to conspire to hide the existence of this episode from me. And while watching "Corpsicle" now was as sweet as finding a bonus chocolate Easter egg weeks after the holidays, it also meant coping with the idea of my encroaching senility.

This makes me part of the foggy audience syndrome that’s making networks nervous about whether viewers will return, and conducting surveys to predict whether they will or not. But no survey is going to predict accurately. We’re notoriously bad at identifying our own future behaviour, and this isn’t like, "Who are you going to vote for, Obama or Hillary?" This is, "Will you remember exactly when the show you used to watch is coming back and get back into the habit of watching?" How can I say yes, when I didn’t know exactly when my second-favourite show left?

For the record, House returns April 28, but Pushing Daisies isn't back until fall. See, I know that, at least. Let's see if I remember again at the time.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Hugh Laurie holy grail

This was not going to be my first real post from the LA trip. In fact, it wasn't going to be a post at all. I mean, how ridiculous is it to write a review of a show that has never and will never air? But I started writing something about the Paley Center and PaleyFest and this part just took over, so it was either carve it off separately or ditch most of it. And you know how hard it would have been for me to delete anything with the words "Hugh Laurie" and "House":

Thursday, March 27, 2008

NBC boss Jeff Zucker recaps My Name is Earl

If you're feeling a little residual post-strike outrage over this spot, think about who wrote it. Hint: not the network suit.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Welcome back

Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Tribune has the dates and the details. For me, April 10 and April 28 are marked on the metaphorical calendar.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Snoop Doggy Deekay

This is so wrong. So, so wrong. I apologize in advance.

I will have more on JibJab soon - I got to sit down with co-founder Gregg Spiridellis and get a tour of their studios when I was in LA - but today they've launched a new Starring You video: you can put yourself into a Snoop Dogg video.

At first, I tried to do the lazy thing and use my own already uploaded head for all 3 roles. I will be in therapy for years, now, trying to get the vision of me seducing myself out of my head. Then I tried to put Hugh Laurie and John Cusack in the supporting roles - hey, I didn't want to give up the starring role - but now I have to do penance for years, trying to atone for putting them in sexy women's garb. Finally, I decided to ignore the fact that I'm pandering to the male fantasy. Let's just say if I were to bat for the other team, I'd want Michelle Pfeiffer and Keira Knightley on my side.

Want to make your own? Visit JibJab - but it'll cost you $3 to share the video like this. I'll have a bit more on that in my upcoming article, too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Welcome to California

Seriously. Apparently not all of California is on the beach. In swirling snow and pitch blackness, decided to stop for the night in Mount Shasta, California - that's the view from the hotel window. This was the last 10 minutes of Oregon, before the California border:

Um, LA is warm, right? Otherwise, I'm going to need a whole new wardrobe.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Flurry of activity coming soon

The dangers of coming late to the conversation:

Coworker: Aww, you're a total dork.
Me: I know! I'm such a nerd.
New guy, walking by: Whoa, wait. You are definitely not a nerd. I know nerds, and you are not a nerd.
Coworker (to me): Tell him about your vacation.
Me, getting more and more excited: I'm going to LA to the Paley Festival, where I get to hear the cast and producers of some shows talk about behind the scenes stuff, and I'm going to a show taping, and I'm getting a tour of a digital animation studio, and doing other stuff, and then I'm going to write about some of it on the web.
New guy: Wow, you're a nerd.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Blank Blankly

You may remember these signs in a different form, but I was playing with LA Weekly's Blank Blankly gallery and came up with these (rather lame) samples:

I bet you can do better. Sad footnote - my workplace has whited out the "Thou Shall Not Kill" part of the speed limit sign. Thou shall kill irony, apparently. At least, I always assumed it was ironic.