Awhile back, my wife Diane got me the book Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show which I mentioned here. I read it and am finally getting around to reviewing not only the book but, the documentary that it was written from as well. I should start out by mentioning that I read a great deal and the vast majority of what I read tends to be non-fiction. So, I have a reasonable amount of experience as well as expectations with these types of books. Since there really is no other gentle way to put it, I found the book to be a bit of a disappointment. The chapters are each supposed to cover a specific topic but, consist entirely of quotes from what I soon realized was the documentary film of the same name. Unfortunately, except for the final two chapters I felt that a number of the quotes would have better served to illustrate the topics of different chapters. I also really want to emphasize here that the chapters are just collections of quoted material with no connecting text from the author. As a result, I found the book very difficult to get through but, about a third of the way in, did resolve to follow-up with the documentary which was its source. I will finish up with the observation that the book does not include an index as I know this can be important to some people. This is not a criticism as not all non-fiction books do have indices as I guess indexing is expensive.
So, onto the documentary itself. As of the date of this article, the film is conveniently available on Netflix streaming service. For my viewing I was also able to recruit an expert in documentaries in the form of my wife Diane. She has watched a good deal more of these than myself and has become quite the connoisseur of this branch of film. It turns out that the documentary was almost entirely, if not completely, the source of all of the quotes from the book. I can’t say with certainty but I honestly have no incentive to go back and check. On the plus side, I found the movie quite watchable and very good. This sentiment was shared by Diane as well. My personal favorite story was one provided by Damon Lindelof about how he and Carlton Cuse, after they had decided how Lost was going to end, watched the series finale of The Sopranos. They loved it but, upon hearing everyone else’s reaction to it the next day realized that they were basically screwed on Lost. It is, of course, much more engaging to watch the speaker of a quote as they make their statement than to read it as plain text which is probably the single biggest hurdle the book has working against it. However, in this media rich age where content can be readily had for the push of a few buttons, it did leave me wondering why there was a perceived need for the book in the first place. So, to summarize, I would highly recommend that anyone interested in the topic of showrunning check out the documentary. At that point you can safely skip the book as you will have gotten most of what it contains from the film itself.
I recently received a comment on my two year old article of what the 23rd season of Doctor Who would have looked like had the series not been put on hiatus by the BBC. The comment, which appears at the end of the article provides a link which takes you to a Digital Spy post by Ian Levine. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Levine he is a British DJ and huge Doctor Who fan and was a bit of a consultant to the series around the time that it was put on hiatus back in 1985. The person who posted the comment prefaced it by saying that my original article had been debunked which I feel is quite the overstatement as much of what I posted was surprisingly accurate according to Mr. Levine’s statement. I use the word surprisingly here because, as Ian says in his article, there was and has been a huge amount of misinformation surrounding this lost season. My original article was the result of years of research on the season. Let me explain what I mean by years of research here. I started actively following Doctor Who, like most people my age, in the middle of Tom Baker’s run as the Doctor. As a result, I got the “privelege” of experiencing the events surrounding the 23rd season fiasco in real time. My “years of research” involves pretty much reading every article on the hiatus as they have appeared over the years. While this doesn’t sound like much there was, as Mr. Levine states, a lot of contradictory information which I ultimately had to sift through to write my article and while I did get most of it right, according to him, there are a few points that I didn’t that I wanted to follow-up with here. These have to do with the two stories Yellow Fever and How to Cure it/The Singapore Incident and Gallifrey, the latter of which was replaced on my list by The Children of January for reasons I will go into below.
The easy one is Yellow Fever (and How to Cure it). I totally believe Mr. Levine that the extended name was a joke on the part of script write Robert Holmes. At this point I can not honestly remember where I picked up the alternate title The Singapore Incident from but, like I write in the original article, given the chaos surrounding television production either title could have ended up being the broadcast title. I also buy into Mr. Levine’s statement about the Rani not being in the script. I had always been a little skeptical about the number of villains in this story because, at the time, you generally didn’t have that amount of villain loading in a Doctor Who story arc. I kind of went along with it because the Master had previously appeared with the Rani (Mark of the Rani) and the Autons (Terror of the Autons) but, those were two stories seperated by a lot of time and Doctors. I guess there was also some wishful thinking on my part and the perspective that both being renegade Timelords sort of had it make sense and, of course, just about every article I read at the time and since had pretty much said this was the case. Even with all of this the more rational part of my mind ultimately finds Mr. Levine’s Rani-less version far more believable.
Gallifrey gets a lot more complex. The reason I dropped it from my list in lieu of The Children of January is that I had long ago decided it was probably never close to happening given the shear volume of contradictory information surrounding the story. For example, I had read somewhere that the story was originally outlined by Robert Holmes but was being finished by Eric Saward due to health issues on the part of Mr. Holmes which now seems unlikely given that Mr. Holmes did ultimately write the final two episodes of The Trial of a Timelord one year later. From what Mr. Levine said, it is obvious to me now that the bad blood invoked by the disagreement over the story between Mr. Saward and John Nathan Turner probably contributed to a lack of real information getting out and, additionally, any that did being extremely colored by emotion. I had heard the bit about the story outline being given to Pip and Jane Baker to complete so at least that much seems to be true. In any case, given Mr. Levine’s credentials combined with the fact he pretty much confirmed everything else in my initial article, I’m more than willing to accept his perspective on the events regarding this story arc. Of course, my desire for Gallifrey to have been an actual script based upon my meager understanding of the story line might be affecting my judgement as well. The end result is that I am now replacing The Children of January on my original list with Gallifrey.
Now I want to get to what, to me, is the single most important part of Ian Levine’s article. He mentions in his post that he has full on reconstructions of all of the lost stories for season 23. Given that we only have access to four of the stories at the moment (The Nightmare Fair, The Ultimate Evil, and Mission to Magnus as novels and The Hollows of Time as an audio play) it would be wonderful if Mr. Levine’s reconstructions were to somehow be made available to Doctor Who fandom. This could take the form of the reconstructions being given to authors to produce novelizations for the three stories not previously published as such. Of course, it would be nice if the three previous novelizations where reprinted as well. Mr. Levine’s comment that The Hollows of Time is also noticably different from the Big Finish audio drama version would make me very interested in seeing his version which would further justify a novelization of that story. However, the one I would be especially interested in seeing/reading is Gallifrey for which precious little story data is publicly available and, what little I have seen implies some major changes to the direction of the series. Again, this is all a lot of wishful thinking on my part but, maybe some day.
Last summer my viewing kind of slowed down given that True Blood ended and that I dropped Falling Skies based upon the radical change in story direction. However, this summer things have sort of come back to normal thanks to SyFy and BBC America and the discovery of another non-genre edge series. Following what has become my usual format, I will be tackling things in chronological order.
Halt and Catch Fire was a show that I had watched the pilot for when it first came out but, never had an opportunity to really follow up on the rest of the season. Fortunately, Diane noticed it was on Netflix streaming in time for me to catch up before season two. It is an AMC series about a fictional firm called Cardiff Electric that is kind of dragged rather reluctantly into the whole PC war in the early 80s. Given the subject matter it is definitely an edge show, meaning that genre TV fans might find the series interesting. Give it a look as the second season started on May 31st.
Defiance is entering its third season with a two hour season premier and move to Friday night on SyFy. I’m really enjoying this show more as time goes on and the season two conclusion openned up a huge number of possible directions for the series. Defiance start on June 12th. And on the same night we get the premier of one of two new space based dramas. Being a fan of space dramas I am overjoyed especially given that we get an Expanse series in the fall as well. the new series is called Dark Matter and is based upon a comic book that I am unfamiliar with. The set-up is that six individuals wake up on a space ship with no recollection of who they are or why they are there. They pretty much had me at the space ship part.
Switching back to non-genre, on the same night, Orange is the New Black’s third season lands in its entirety on Netflix streaming service. It isn’t even close to an edge show but, in case anyone is interested my season one review is available on The Movie Waffler.
On the next day, June 13th, we switch back to genre TV with the BBC series Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This is a historical fantasy series set in during the Napoleanic Wars (which would be the early 19th century for people who have the same problem with dates that I do) which is kind of cool as it’s certainly not an overused time period for genre series. Apparently this is an alternate reality world where magic is commonplace and is based upon a book that I am also unfamiliar with.
By introducing two space based genre dramas this summer SyFy has decided to push season two of Z Nation to the fall. The second drama is called Killjoys and is about a team of bounty hunters. Not one to look a gift space based genre series in the mouth, I will be checking this out when it premiers on June 19th.
Moving to another edge series, season two of True Detective starts on HBO on June 21st. I have to say that I am extremely hesitant on this one. As I’ve said before, catching the same lightning in a bottle is also difficult for a second season and it strikes me as doubly hard given how unique True Detective’s first season was. I would love to be able to tell you more about it but, it seems that HBO hired the same team to do the preview that did all of the “next episode” segments of Mad Men as it told me absolutely nothing about the season. I’ll be checking it out anyway even though I remain skeptical. Oh yeah, my season one review of True Detective is also available on The Movie Waffler’s website.
Awhile back I watched season one of this cool Swedish series called Real Humans. While I still haven’t gotten to season two yet due to technical difficulties on my end, AMC is premiering their adaptation, called Humans, with an upside down A in the title, on June 28th. Quite honestly I’m still undecided on this one as I liked the original series so much. My viewing will probably depend upon whether Diane has any interest in it.
Finally, we end on a non-genre note with the return of Showtime’s Masters of Sex for its third season. The second season didn’t hold up quite as strongly for me as the first. I think a lot of this had to do with the timeline jumps in the season that they needed to make to get the story up to where they wanted to for the beginning of this season. I still enjoy the show very much so i’ll be checking it out when it premiers on July 12th. My review of season one is available here.
Busy summer and I hope it turns out to be as interesting as it looks
As long time readers of my blog will know I have been going through Stargate SG-1 as I missed it back when it was on TV. I’m just getting to the end of season seven and a huge bombshell landed on me. This is a pretty big spoiler so, if you have any plans to visit the series in the future you will probably want to stop reading now.
For those still with me, season seven has three two-part stories in it. The second one is called Heroes which features Saul Rubinek (Arty from Warehouse 13) as a documentary film maker sent by the president of the United States, no less, to Stargate Command to make a documentary of the Stargate project. The film will remain classified and only be shown to individuals with the appropriate security clearance until such time as the program is revealed to the public. In typical Stargate fashion a mission team ends up under attack and must be rescued by the SG-1 people. Since one of the mission team members is hurt they take Dr. Fraiser with them. To make a long story short, the doctor gets shot by a Jaffa energy weapon and ultimately dies. This completely blindsided me. I really liked Dr. Fraiser who was played perfectly by the actress Teryl Rothery. She was a fairly major secondary character in the series who I always thought was really cool and, with Stargate: Atlantis right around the corner, I hoped she would make the transition to main character in that series which, I guess, won’t be happening at this point.
I was equally surprised that this event had not been spoiled for me as I have talked about the series with numerous people over the years who watched it back in the day. I don’t remember if any of them actually read Fantastic Television but, if any of you do I’ll publicly thank you right now for keeping the secret over the past few years that I’ve gone through the series.
I have finished season seven at this point and read up on some of the comments from people at the time and it seems that this decision on the part of the SciFi Channel (as they were known at the time) proved to be a largely unpopular one with the fan base. Season seven is the second one under SciFi’s production and it’s pretty clear they wanted to change things up for the series. As an example, the large number of two part episodes in the season that I mentioned earlier. I also already know that Jack O’Neill leaves at the end of the next season (it was pretty much impossible to keep that a secret at this point in time) so, it will be interesting to see how that plays out. I was watching this along with season one of the X Files and The 100 but, ultimately decided to finish each season seperately as I felt that this schedule would work a little better for me. Reviews have been requested and will follow as I finish up those two seasons.
This one is for my friends Barry Harding and Stan Huggins who were surprised that I didn’t voice my opinions on FOX announcing a new X Files series (Barry also runs a blog called Monster Minions that you can check out here). Perhaps mini-series might be a better name for it as it will only be six episodes. Before I go into my thoughts on this, I should probably mention that I wasn’t a huge X Files fan back when it was on which I mentioned in my TV discoveries for 2014 article. I gave a brief explanation of why this was but thought I would be able to go into a more detailed explanation here. Many people where surprised by my lack of viewing at the time. This was especially the case given that they all knew I was a huge fan of the one season wonder Kolchak: the Night Stalker which X Files’ creator Chris Carter claims was a key inspiration for his series. My sister Cindy made a herculean effort to get me into the series starting fairly early on and I had thought that she got me to watch my first episode. I am going through season one at the moment and was reminded I was wrong. One of my gaming friends Chuck Bickle was the other person really selling the series to me and, it turns out I must have listened. I recently saw the first season episode Space and realized that this was my first exposure to the X Files. It was not a particularly good one.
I have a rule now about not starting series mid-season and this, I would guess subconsciously at least, was one of the reasons why. It turns out this luck I had for for picking mid-season episodes to jump into a new series with worked equally as well on Supernatural where my first episode was Home back when it first aired. When I watched Supernatural in order it turned out this was a pretty awesome episode after all but it really didn’t work as an intro to the series at the time. Getting back to my sister and the X Files, her first attempt was to gift me with a VHS tape of the episodes Conduit and Ice with the recommendation that I check out Ice first. This was a good move on her part because if I watched Conduit first, which was quite likely as I tend to watch things in release order (yes, I’m one of those people), then Ice probably never would have happened.
Her next big push came in season five with episodes like Kill Switch and Chinga which were co-written by famous authors. I actually stuck with a few episodes this time which was helped again by Chuck who got me to watch the episode Travelers with Darren McGavin. He cleverly leveraged the Kolchak angle. Ultimately, this still didn’t take although I did catch the occasional episode from friends like the notorious, broadcast only once, episode Home which is noticeably different from the Supernatural episode mentioned earlier.
So, why did my sister work so hard on me watching the series? Well, the answer to that goes back to some of my misspent youth. As a child I had always been fascinated by the occult. I literally had files with articles and a shelf full of books on numerous subjects from UFOs to cryptozoology. Combined with having a good memory and becoming a scientist later in life, I guess the idea was that she could use me to answer any questions she might have on the series. To my mind, there was a big problem with Cindy’s plan for me to explain everything to her which I told her at the time. There was no way the series writers were ever going to give you any straight answers because once viewers started getting them they would soon be checking out what else was on television on Friday or, later, Sunday nights. This is why I ultimately preferred the stand alone “monster of the week” style episodes myself. Having grown up on older episodic format TV, of course, didn’t hurt either.
In any case, as I said in my 2014 TV discoveries article, I am in the process of correcting the horrible mistake I made in not really watching the series. I’m currently going through the first season which means that I guess I’m not as likely to be excited at the news of the show’s return as its long suffering fans are. Still, I am always happy when a genre show gets the green light, especially one that I consider a foundation series of genre television. Between being only six episodes and the more sophisticated nature of television writing today I would expect a six episode story arc although my preference would be for some monster of the week action as well. I’m also guessing that the run will focus heavily on the show’s extensive mythology which means I probably won’t be watching it. Unless, of course, I hear otherwise. Ultimately, what I would like for the series return is something that will make the largest number of the show’s fans happy because, even though I’m more than fashionably late to the party, I will at some point in the future be one of those fans watching this return as well.
Awhile back I wrote about how there were certain insanely popular genre shows that I would not be talking about a whole lot in this blog. While that is technically still true, I will be reviewing season five of The Walking Dead at The Movie Waffler. I guess I should have seen this coming when Eric asked me for an overview of the first four season for his site but, honestly, I did not. In any case, if you want to see my thoughts on season five of The Walking Dead you can check them out here.
Time for my “spring season” viewing schedule. This will cover shows I’ll be watching in April, May and the beginning of June. Since one of the June ones doesn’t actually have an official start date yet, I’ll be following up around then with my summer viewing plans. I will stick with the chronological premier dates as, like I said last time, I’ll be using this article as a checklist for myself.
The only non-genre entry this season is the final season of AMC’s Mad Men which begins on April 5th. I can’t say I’m super upset by the end of this series as it’s something that I think Diane gets more out of than I do. While I haven’t regretted the ride, I’m most definitely getting more out of Better Call Saul at the moment.
Now onto the cool stuff. First up is the first of four Marvel Netflix original series. That would be Daredevil. To be honest the previews I have seen have not been all that inspiring for me but, I’ll be checking it out anyway. The entire series will be available on April 10th as per Netflix usual method of dumping an entire season all at once on their streaming service. Game of Thrones returns for its fifth season on HBO beginning on April 12th. For those who may have missed it, the showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have announced that the series will spoil the books because they will be following the ending that George R. R. Martin intends for his seventh and final book. I felt this was as much a statement on Martin’s writing plans as the series schedule itself. On SyFy starting April 17th will be the fifth and final season of Lost Girl. This season looks like it will be largely missing Kenzi who is played by Ksenia Solo which is unfortunate as I really love her character. However, I won’t have long to wait for Ms. Solo’s return as she will be joining the cast of Orphan Black which begins its third season a day later on BBC America. This is a great little show that seems to still be largely unknown to most people. My dad even likes it which means it must be pretty awesome as he generally dislikes genre content. Moving into May, on the 3rd we have the return of Penny Dreadful on Showtime. As I said before, I would have completely missed this one had I not caught a better preview for it that made it look as much like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as well as a horror series. The first season had more than a few surprises in store and I’m interested to see where season two takes us. In June another Netflix original series Sense8 drops on June 5th. I have been waiting for this one for quite awhile as J. Michael Straczynski, the guy who brought as Babylon 5 and some equally awesome comic book series like Rising Stars and Midnight Nation, is involved. Finally, sometime in June, I’m guessing, will be the third season of Defiance on SyFy. My patience with this series paid off pretty nicely in season two and I’m anxious to see where season three goes given the events at the end of the second.
An additional note on my DVD/streaming would be in order. As long time readers know, I’ve been going through Stargate SG-1 and am just about to finish up season 7. I’ll cover this in an upcoming post. In addition to this, I have begun the X-Files first season and on Hulu plus the first season of the CW series The 100. I’ll be covering the X-Files in another post but the latter series is something that I had gotten interested in from previews during other CW shows I watch, which seems to be an awful lot given that they are still giving SyFy a run for their title. I’m enjoying it so far but I’m even more looking forward to season two as I’ve heard consistently that it is even better than the first.