PODCAST: MR. ROBOT on USA is a MUST SEE!

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I binged all 10 episodes of USA’s dark drama MR. ROBOT and it deserves all the accolades it’s been receiving.  Check out my thoughts in the podcast below. Just push play!

The 5 Best Gifts TV Gave Us in 2015!

With over 400 scripted series on television and countless reality shows, there really is something for every spread across broadcast, cable and digital platforms.  But quantity does not equal quality.  With Christmas right around the corner, here’s my list of the 5 Best Gifts TV (including digital platforms) gave us in 2015 (in no particular order).

  1. Live Scripted Performances on NBC – In the pioneering days of television almost every program was performed live, but in recent history live performances have mostly been relegated to awards shows, reality show finales, the Super Bowl and 2 soaps during sweeps months (“One Life to Live” & “General Hospital”) and sitcoms like “Roc,””Will & Grace” and more recently “Hot in Cleveland.”  But in the spring of 2015, NBC aired a one hour live edition of its struggling sitcom “Undateable.” With musical performances from British pop star Ed Sheeran and guest stars including “Scandal’s” Scott Foley, the show served up it’s funniest episode up to that point prompting NBC to order of third season of all live episodes.  “Undateable” has become the most creative, daring and by far funniest sitcom on broadcast television this season.  While the live production isn’t without it’s technical problems, which have vastly improved, it all still works.  Watching the cast make each other laugh and use timely, real world references is just plain fun, something most returning sitcoms are missing this season. During the past few years NBC has also been staging live productions of classic musicals during the holiday season.  While “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan” fell flat, this year the the network wisely chose to update “The Wiz” featuring new-comer Shanice Williams as Dorothy and an all-star cast (Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, and Ne-Yo). “The Wiz” was a success on all fronts. It was expertly directed, choreographed and performed. The success of “The Wiz”should signal a change in the way NBC approaches its live musical productions. With FOX airing a live production of “Grease” this winter I’m hoping other networks look for creative ways to deliver more live scripted programs, especially on the one hour drama front. I would love to see a live episode of “The Good Wife” set in a courtroom during a big trial.
  2. “Empire” (FOX) – “Empire” premiered it’s first season in January of 2015 and became an instant hit and pop culture sensation.  Oscar nominee Taranji P. Henson gave the break-out performance of the year as mother and ex-con Cookie Lyon, but it should be noted that Terrence Howard’s underrated and under appreciated performance and patriarch Lucious Lyon is giving other classic primetime soap villains JR Ewing (“Dallas”), Alexis Carrington, (“Dynasty”) and Angela Channing (“Falcon Crest”).While season 2, which premiered this fall hasn’t benefited from the strong narrative of season 1, and has had some story missteps (Jamal sleeping with a woman, sigh…) “Empire” overall delivers soapy goodness.
  3. “Looking” – Season 2 (HBO) – In 2015 HBO delivered the second season of “Looking,” the half hour dreamed about a group of gay men in San Francisco facing challenges in romance, family and career. The show delivered a sexy and nuanced love triangle between Patrick, Kevin and Richie which I’m sure the writers planned on diving deeper into in season 3 if there was one.  Unfortunately HBO decided to cancel the quiet series that didn’t make as much noise as the creatively challenged “Girls.”  The second season of the show was also notable for introducing HIV positive character Eddie and being the first tv show to have a characters talk about PreP (Truvada) a drug the FDA has approved for use to help prevent HIV infections in conjunction with other safer sex practices such as condom use. HBO ordered a two-hour wrap up movie of “Looking” to air in early 2016, but it still stings that a thoughtful show about gay men as leads had such a short life.  Luckily, for fans of the show and for those yet to discover it, episodes of “Looking” will live on HBO GO (HBO’s digital platform) forever. And if we’re really lucky, the “Looking” movie will do well enough for HBO to revisit the characters with more tv movies.
  4. Mature Audiences Matter on Digital Platforms – With the broadcast networks still chasing the 18-49 demo, digital platforms such as NETFLIX and AMAZON PRIME proved that stories featuring older characters still matter and can draw an audience. Shows like “Bloodline” (NETFLIX), “Grace and Frankie” (NETFLIX), “Transparent” (AMAZON PRIME) proved that older, mature characters are still compelling and can carry story.  With few exceptions, broadcast television has abandoned storytelling for older characters unless they’re male leads on procedural dramas or supporting characters.  Digital platforms have embraced these characters and delivered high quality series centered around them. A few weeks ago I was watching “The Golden Girls” and realized that today that show wouldn’t exist on broadcast television and if it did, it would be a watered down version not nearly as relatable or timeless as what we got in the 1980s.  Digital platforms have created a space for the diversity in story-telling that doesn’t exist on broadcast television.
  5. Regina King wins an Emmy! (“American Crime, ABC) – Regina King is that rare actress who started out as a child star and was able to stay out of trouble as she transitioned into an amazing adult actress.  I always thought her performance on the NBC/TNT drama “Southland” should have been earned her multiple Emmy nominations but it was her performance in the limited series “American Crime” that earned her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.  With every performance, whether on tv or the big screen, comedic or dramatic, King gives strong and nuanced performances.  Based on the reviews and buzz she could find herself back in the race for her performance in HBO’s “The Leftovers.”  King returns for the next edition of “American Crime” in 2016.

Country Music Star STEVE GRAND Should Use His Album “ALL AMERICAN BOY” as Inspiration for a TV SERIES!

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Openly gay country music star Steve Grand’s debut has been a constant on my playlist this week and as I was listening to it for probably the tenth time, I realized that his title track “All American Boy” should be the genesis for a tv series in which he would star.  The song paints such a vivid picture of unrequited love that anyone, gay or straight, can relate.

Here’s how I see the origin story of show unfolding:

Steve is an aspiring musician living in the midwest playing whatever gigs he can get. He lives in a converted apartment above his parents garage which leaves him very little privacy. Although Steve has come out to his ultra conservative parents it remains a mostly unspoken topic. His parents love him, but struggle to understand this part of his life. Steve has dated a couple of guys, but he’s never brought anyone home to meet his parents in part because he knew none of those guys were “the one.”

Steve’s best friend Jake is a strapping farm boy.  He’s never been outside of their small town and he’s quite content to spend his days at the lake drinking whiskey by a fire while Steve plays the guitar and previews his music. While Jake sees this as just another good time with his best friend, Steve finds it to be the most intimate times he’s had. Unfortunately for him, Jake’s girlfriend Laurie always finds a way to join in the festivities. Every time Steve has to watch Jake and Laurie hold hands, embrace and kiss, his heart breaks a little bit more. Jake is cool with Steve’s sexuality and has no idea his best friend is in love with him, although Laurie has noticed the way Steve looks at Jake and takes every opportunity she can to make sure Steve witnesses their affection for one another.

When Steve plays a gig at a small bar in Chicago, he meets Marcus a handsome medical intern who is immediately taken with Steve.  Marcus persuades Steve to have coffee with him before he has to catch his train back home. They hit it off and Marcus suggests they see each other again. Steve is hesitant but exchanges numbers with him and heads back home. Marcus is persistent and even though Steve tries to put him off, Marcus eventually wears him down and Steve agrees to see him again the next time he can book a job in Chicago.

When Steve and Marcus do start officially dating, it’s only in Chicago, when Marcus has time off from the hospital and Steve can get into the city. Steve doesn’t tell Jake about Marcus, although Marcus suspects something is going on because Steve and his music have taken on a more upbeat tone. Unfortunately for Marcus, he feels there’s a distance between him and Steve. He suspects Steve has a boyfriend back home, but Steve assures him that’s not the case.

When Steve finally introduces Marcus to Jake, Marcus suspects that there’s more between the two of them than friendship. As he witnesses how close Steve and Jake are, he suspects Jake is using Laurie as a cover.  Marcus becomes incredibly insecure in his relationship with Steve and Steve’s inability to shake his feelings for Jake won’t let him fully commit to Marcus emotionally.

The series would follow Steve as he struggles to find success in his music, build a relationship with Marcus and fight every instinct he has to tell Jake how he feels about him, in fear of not only being rejected but also possibly losing his best friend.

Steve Grand is a handsome, sexy and charming all American boy and has all the makings of a leading man. His music can serve as inspiration for a variety of storylines.  ALL AMERICAN BOY would showcase the struggles not only of Steve’s love life, but also the struggles of an openly gay musician.

Check out Steve Grand’s videos for “All American Boy” and “Time”.

5 Things I Hope to See During the 2015 TV Season

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With the fall season quickly approaching, I’m anticipating the return of some show and curious about some of the new entries.  Here are 5 things I hope to see during the new television season.

  1. HOMELAND maintains its creative momentum from last season. Let’s face it, HOMELAND had been a mess creatively for a couple of seasons, but when the show returned for its fourth season, it was refocused and regained its critical credibility. HOMELAND even earned an Emmy nod for Best Drama Series.  I hope the series is able to continue with its creative resurgence in season five.  Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are incredible in their roles and deserve strong material. But please, no more Brody fantasies!
  2. UNDATEABLE thrives on Friday nights. As you may have read in a previous post, I’m quite fond of the NBC comedy UNDATEABLE. When the series aired a one hour live episode this past season, I was 100% sold on the series about a group of misfit friends who hang out at a bar sharing their usually unsuccessful romantic adventures. Fridays are a tough night for any show, and the only comedy to survive on the night in recent years is ABC’s woefully unfunny LAST MAN STANDING.  That’s how low the bar has been set.  This season UNDATEABLE will be live every week and hopefully viewers will tune in for all the hijinks.
  3. HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER doesn’t flame out in season 2. Given the disaster that former ABC mystery soap REVENGE became in its second season, I hope the same fate doesn’t await HTGAWM. They show is a high adrenaline murder mystery, with a number of B, C and D stories.  I hope the storytelling doesn’t become too complicated with all the flashbacks, flash-forwards, and current day settings. Rhonda Rhimes is a master at multi-arc storytelling so that gives me comfort.
  4. SUPERGIRL soars. CBS is not the first network that comes to mind when I think of reimagining a comic book superhero, but the Tiffany network will debut SUPERGIRL on Monday nights this fall up against Batman prequel GOTHAM on FOX. I quickly fell out of love with GOTHAM last season, so my I’ve tempered my excitement for SUPERGIRL. The show does have two things going for it. One, she’s a female superhero which could broaden the appeal of the show from just comic book purists. Second, former ALLY MCBEAL star Calista Flockhart as publishing mogul and Kara’s (aka Supergirl) boss/confidante.
  5. EMPIRE continues to break new ground. EMPIRE had a record-breaking first season this past winter telling compelling and contemporary stories that often go untold on with African American characters on tv. While we’ve seen many coming out stories, Jamal’s felt fresh and bold. Having oldest son Andre struggle with bipolar disorder was a great way of educating the audience about mental health while still delivering a great soapy story.  I hope EMPIRE continues to weave topical social issues into its sometimes over the top storytelling boldly distinguishing itself from all other dramas on television.

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UNDATEABLE -- "A Live Show Walks Into A Bar" Episode 209B -- Pictured: (l-r) Ron Funches as Shelly, Rick Glassman as Burski, Chris D'Elia as Danny, David Fynn as Brett, Brent Morin as Justin -- (Photo by: Darren Michaels/NBC/Warner Bros.)

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CASTING CORNER: 3 ACTRESSES WHO SHOULD BE SERIES LEADS!

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These three talented women are familiar faces to tv viewers but none have ever headlined their own tv series, which is a shame. It’s time for Hollywood take notice and cast these women as series leads.

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KHANDI ALEXANDER

Khandi Alexander has most recently been recurring as “Mama” Maya Pope on SCANDAL.  Whether she’ll be returning for the upcoming season is unknown, as the show keeps its storyline spoilers close to the vest. But, Alexander’s talent is too powerful for her to be sitting on the sidelines. Her performance on SCANDAL is proof.

I would love to see Khandi Alexander as a corporate mogul fighting to keep the business she built from nothing into an international powerhouse. Alexander’s character would be single, by choice, but not lonely. She can have any man she wants, whenever she wants him, but on her own terms.  While she’s confident and proud of her success she struggles with her relationship with her parents who think she abandoned her past in her quest for her fortune.  Khandi Alexander would have no problem playing a strong, poweful, smart and sexy woman. She’s done it in supporting roles on a number of shows and now it’s her turn to take center stage.

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JUDY GOLD

Judy Gold is a brilliant comedian. I’ve seen her do stand up a lot and her sets consistently keep the audience laughing.  Gold has had a few guest spots on sitcoms 2 BROKE GIRLS and LOUIE and delivered standout performances.

Judy Gold should headline a show on Netfiix, Amazon or Hulu where she can have the freedom bring her unique sensibility in a fresh and uncompromising way.  Gold should star in a comedy based on her relationship with her family, a constant subject of her standup. The story could focus on Gold’s character, a divorced lesbian, who is in a new relationship but also in constant contact with her ex-wife because they share a son.  If that’s not enough Gold would ask be struggling to keep her family business afloat while caring for her elderly, spitfire mother. She has such a gift for storytelling that she would be sure to appeal to her current fans while drawing a whole new audience who have yet to discover her.

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ROSIE PEREZ

Rosie Perez is an Oscar nominee who this past year co-starred in the critically acclaimed Broadway play FISH IN THE DARK while serving as a co-host on THE VIEW.  Now that Perez is done with her hosting duties, she’s free to headline her own series. Not only is she an amazing actress, Perez is well versed in politics and science. She’s a social activist who has spent years fighting for issues impacting the Latino community, inner city youth and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

Rosie Perez should star in a gritty cable drama about a woman who wants to save the world through her social activism. When she’s asked to run for a local political office she’s at first reluctant but then considers the impact she could make by working on the inside. In the “fish-out-of-water” story Perez’s character would have to learn how to navigate the politics of politics in order to make  a difference for her community. She would be torn between her new professional world and colleagues as she tries to maintain the relationships with her community in which she still lives. Some of the activists with which she once worked will consider her a sell-out while others will try to leverage their relationship with her to move their agenda forward.  Rosie Perez is a star who deserves a star vehicle that shows off her amazing acting chops.

It’s Been 10 Years since “Six Feet Under” signed off with an AMAZING Finale

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SIX FEET UNDER stands as one of the best dramatic offerings from HBO and although it seems like yesterday, it’s actually been ten years since the show aired its amazing series finale.  The show examined how a family faces their own mortality under the backdrop of the funeral home they owned and operated.  The Fisher family felt real because they were relatable. Constantly surrounded by death, there was a darkness that lived in each character and we as viewers watched as that darkness manifested and played out. Each character was so terribly flawed yet felt authentic. The series finale could have easily given each character their happy ending and after five seasons of angst they would have deserved it.  But, SIX FEET UNDER never took the easy route.  Before it was “en vogue” to kill off a series lead, the show shockingly killed off oldest son and brother Nate (Peter Krause) a few episodes before the series finale.

By the final episode each character had plans to move on and find their bliss. As youngest child, Claire drove away towards her new life in New York City, the show could have faded to black and left us wondering what was next for the Fishers and their loved ones.  Instead, the show flashed forward to show us how each of the main characters died. This was the ultimate closure for the fans.  We’re not left wondering if matriarch Ruth is still operating a doggy daycare or if David and his partner Keith are still together.  There’s no speculation of a SIX FEET UNDER: THE MOVIE.

The SIX FEET UNDER finale stands as one of the best series finales in tv history.  My only gripe is that I wish in the scene that shows Claire’s death, the last character to die, her family had been there waiting for her.  But, it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise perfect episode.  While THE SOPRANOS finale got more buzz, the SIX FEET UNDER finale got it right! The show didn’t try to be hip or clever, it was just organic and true to what the series was. This is a finale that will stay with me much longer than recent endings of shows like MAD MEN and PARENTHOOD.

Take a look back at the SIX FEET UNDER finale montage.  I still get chills when I watch it, do you?