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.

NIECY NASH is the ALL STAR of the FALL SEASON!

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While Niecy Nash’s face certainly isn’t new to television viewers (RENO 911, CLEAN HOUSE, THE SOUL MAN), she’s definitely having her moment in 2015, starring in two primetime series.  Nash earned an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Didi Ortley on the HBO comedy GETTING ON.  This was such a well deserved nomination, as Nash has incredible comedic timing and her line delivery is spot on every time. But more impressive is what she’s able to convert without uttering a word.  Her face can convey empathy, disgust, annoyance and joy effortlessly.  Now in its third and final season, GETTING ON is wrapping up Didi’s story but hopefully HBO will be back in business with Niecy Nash soon.

While her performance as Didi is quite and internalized, the FOX dramedy SCREAM QUEENS gives Nash the opportunity to show up and show out as Denise Hemphill, a security guard determined to catch the serial killer terrorizing a college sorority.  I suspect Denise has a tie to one of the sorority girls that will be revealed during the final five episodes.  Nash gives an over-the-top comedic performance that has me howling in every week.  Again, her line delivery is brilliant and I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

GETTING ON and SCREAM QUEENS  gives Niecy Nash an opportunity to showcase herself as a brilliant actress.  If Hollywood is smart she’ll get more high profile feature film roles as well.

SCREAM QUEENS is an anthology series so if FOX renews the series for season two, I hope Ryan Murphy has Nash on his short list of actresses to be featured in the new season. If the television academy is smart Ms. Nash will be a multiple Emmy nominee next year.

Check out Niecy Nash in GETTING ON and SCREAM QUEENS below.

The Reboot of the Reboot is Being REBOOTED!

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It’s long been common practice for the movie industry to develop remakes or reboots of franchises (BATAN, BEN-HUR, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) and television development executives are following their lead. It seems as though every day a network is announcing a reboot of an old tv series or an adaptation of an 80s or 90s movie for television. The short list include tv revivals of HART TO HART (with a gay twist); FULL HOUSE (now called FULLER HOUSE); TWIN PEAKS; THE X-FILES; PRISON BREAK; THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR; XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS: THE A-TEAM; MACGYVER; AMAZING STORIES; GILMORE GIRLS (as a limited series on NETFLIX); and this season’s THE MUPPETS and HEROES: REBORN.

In the past, most of these shows would have just returned as television movies, but with the expanded platforms from which viewers have to choose, everyone is looking for content with built-in name and brand recognition.

Among the movies being adapted into tv series are: MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING; LETHAL WEAPON; ALL OF ME (1984 movie starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin); FATAL ATTRACTION; and CRUEL INTENTIONS, which was previously developed as a tv series called MANCHESTER PREP for FOX but the pilot was ultimately released as a movie on home video.

It’s not uncommon to see popular movies in the tv development pipeline. Often times they don’t make it to series but again, they’re a known quantity and it helps networks and other content platforms with their marketing efforts if they don’t have to spend a lot of time introducing the concept to the audience.  In the old days, this was often done with spinoff series, but that practice seems to have lost favor.

Development executives must be having a difficult time getting writers to pitch exciting original ideas.  And, with the myriad of content providers, experienced show runners are in higher demand.  This is both good and bad. It gives new talent an opportunity to shine behind the scenes, but sometimes that lack of experience can show in the execution. On the  other hand, we get new concepts such as BLACK-ISH (ABC), CLUB DE CUEROS (NETFLIX) and TRANSPARENT (AMAZON).

The burning question is just how much do viewers care about revisiting some of the brands being adapted and rebooted. This season has seen mixed results with MINORITY REPORT on FOX finding its episode order reduced after poor ratings results and LIMITLESS on CBS getting a full season pickup this week. My guess is that fans will flock to GILMORE GIRLS since the series didn’t get the satisfactory conclusion it deserved. FULLER HOUSE will probably garner some interest but since the show went off the air series star Candace Cameron Bure has become quite polarizing because of her religious and political leanings.  I still don’t get the PRISON BREAK reboot. The series had such a limited concept to begin with and ran out of creative steam by the end of season 2 of its four year run.

None of the movie adaptations really excite me.  FATAL ATTRACTION could have some soapy fun but seems limited in scope. There are stalking laws that can resolve this story by the end of the pilot.  ALL OF ME seems an odd pick for an adaptation. Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin made for a fun comedic duo, but no one remembers the film.

It will be interesting to see how far some of these projects get in the development process. Hopefully, among all the reboots and adaptations we’ll see original projects as exciting as EMPIRE, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER and BLOODLINE. There are a lot of writers out there with fresh ideas, I hope network heads are encouraging their development executives to seriously consider these projects.

Are you excited for any of the reboots or adaptations? Are there any other shows or movies you’d like to see on the small screen?  Comment below.

Also, check back to read some of my ideas for series I think would be fun reboots or television adaptations. Oh, and bonus points for anyone who can name the inspiration for the title of this article.

GOTHAM is the MOST IMPROVED SHOW of the NEW SEASON!

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When GOTHAM premiered last year I was reluctant to watch the story of Gotham City before the Dark Knight rises.  The early episodes of the first season gave us the origin stories of some of the most popular Batman villains (The Riddler, The Penguin, The Joker, Catwoman) started their journeys as sociopathic criminals. The prequel also introduced us to Detective Jim Gordon who in earnest tries to put the bad guys away.  The only problem with this premise for me was that we all know the reason Batman exists is because Gordon and the other members of the Gotham Police force are incapable of cleaning up the streets of Gotham City. Each week there the show would give us a crime/mystery often taken from the comic book series with some resolution by the end of the episode. These weren’t the most compelling mysteries and I soon found myself easily deleted the recorded episodes from my dvr.  I just didn’t care about crime sprees in Gotham City without Batman. The show’s stories seemed less focused than rival CW series ARROW and THE FLASH.  The two bright spots were performances by Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, an original character created specially for the show and Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin. Unfortunately, Fish Mooney didn’t make it to season two.

I heard that there would be major creative changes for the second season of GOTHAM and decided I would check out the first few episodes and if I wasn’t immediately gripped, the series would be permanently deleted from my dvr and my mind. I’m happy to report that the season premiere reset the series with focus on a collection of criminals who found themselves locked up at the Arkam Asylum at the end of season one. The episode also set up real stakes and jeopardy for hero Detective Gordon and made movement towards young Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming the Dark Knight. But, what sealed GOTHAM’S “Most Improved Series” status was the second episode which saw the afore mentioned criminals wreaking havoc on the citizens of Gotham City all culminating in a shootout resulting the deaths of a number of characters. Real stakes; real jeopardy.

The show seems to have done away with the “case of the week” stories and will focus solely on the rise of Gotham’s most infamous villians. Viewers no longer have suffer through the origin stories and can just sit back and enjoy their dastardly and often deadly impact on Gotham City.  Of particular note this season is the performance of Cameron Monaghan as Jerome Valeska, soon to be known as The Joker.  His take on the iconic sociopath steals every scene he’s in and could become regarded as one of the most memorable versions of The Joker in the history of the franchise. Jim Gordon now holds a dark secret that makes his vulnerable to The Penguin and allows for his ultimate failure to bring down Gotham’s criminal underworld to make more sense. Season 2 of GOTHAM has a clear purpose now and is now much more interesting.  I’m looking forward to going along on the wild ride the writers have set up.

GOTHAM airs on FOX, Monday at 8pm EST.

Check out a promo for season 2 of GOTHAM below.