E! has been every TV fanatic’s source of all-day celeb, Hollywood, and lifestyle dish since 1990. Between E! News, E! True Hollywood Stories, Fashion Police, The Soup (and its predecessor Talk Soup), the unending branches of the Kardashian franchise, and specials like the 100 Sexiest Beach Bodies, the network has provided a hotbed of celeb-skewed entertainment for fans of the boob tube. Now, they’re looking to add another element: drama. The network just slated nine new scripted series for development, territory where no E! exec has boldly gone before. Of course the big question is: Will it work?
On one level, this decision to slate series ranging from Kevin Spacey’s 1990s Silicon Valley boom drama to an ABC reject series placing Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII in modern-day Hollywood signals a seeming desire to up the network’s level of discourse. We’ve already started to see that shift with focus on families like The Eastwoods (as in Clint Eastwood) and the E! Investigates series with journalist Laura Ling, but the scripted series push is an incongruent move for the network’s general reality-based mode of operation.
Granted, E! is not the first network to try and change its stripes. We’ve watched USA, TBS, and TNT work tirelessly to alter their reputations from “those cable channels that always play Speed and Beverly Hills: 90210 reruns” to viable cable networks with genuine original programming and distinct identities. And E! has been testing the scripted waters with reruns of the ever-classic Sex and the City, NBC’s new guilty pleasure Smash (merging with NBC Universal has its perks), as well as Brit Cult hit Absolutely Fabulous, but reality and newsy commentary has remained the priority. And for good reason.
We love E!. From the schmoozy, celeb-loving tone of E! News to the snark and complete disregard for any and all famous folks on The Soup and Fashion Police — and that tone isn’t going anywhere. If anything, it seems the network is amplifying it. Their new initiative, which the network calls “Pop of Culture,” features new series that toe the line of E! we know so well. Whitney Cummings will bring a weekly talk show to the network to pair her snarky quips alongside Joel McHale’s devil-may-care takedown of all things reality and celebrity on The Soup; Kevin Jonas will take us into his new life of wedded bliss on Married to Jonas; and Nigel Lythgoe brings a talent competition aimed at web-famous talent.
The difference between these endeavors and the new scripted slate is that these are expanding on an idea we’re all buying into. Throw in the scripted series – which span from historical dramas to glitzy guilty pleasures – and you’ve got a risky cocktail of new content that will either overwhelm us with intrigue or render us defenseless with confusion. In one corner we have intelligent-sounding series like King David, a “modern-day Mr. Smith [Goes to Washington]” tale written by a former D.C. lobbyist, and Upstarts, the Kevin Spacey/Michael De Luca produced series set in the Silicon Valley digital boom of the 1990s. And in the other, we have Amy Devlin Mysteries, a typical procedural that follows a twentysomething pop culture wiz detective (you would, E!), and Dorothy, a modern-day love story based not so loosely on The Wizard of Oz. Overnight, E! is attempting a rather tall order: It wants to go from special interest cable network to full-fledged programming in a single beat.
While the risk is large, if it pays off, E! could be sitting very, very pretty. But the big question is: Why the risk? As they say, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and E!’s not exactly broke. (Just look at the fifth season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ average audience of 3.11 viewers, which is nothing to scoff at for a cable reality series.) It does make sense, however, that E! is moving towards more high-minded content, attempting to skew its reputation for flashiness to a more intelligent plane. It’s just curious that the overhaul is so expansive and ambitious. Of course, they don’t have a colloquialism like "if ain’t broke, but you want to skew your reputation to be a little smarter, try baby steps." It doesn’t have quite the same ring.
Will you watch scripted series on E!?
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E! Scripted Series
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NBC’s new sitcom Whitney, created by and starring comedian Whitney Cummings, will be welcoming another standup to the cast for an upcoming episode: Lisa Lampanelli, who, like Cummings, has built her comedy career on embodying the antithesis of “traditional femininity,” will play the part of a dog pound manager under whose jurisdiction it falls decide whether or not Whitney and her live-in boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia) can adopt a dog. Lampanelli’s episode is slated to air in late October or early November. Whitney airs at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. -Vulture
One of the most interesting developing reality projects surrounds a family who isn't famous in the traditional reality fashion: the Mandelas. The series will star three adult grandchildren of anti-apartheid activist and former South African president Nelson Mandela: Dorothy Adjoa Amuah, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini. The three young women (aged 27, 34 and 32, respectively), will use the program as a plateau for creating identities for themselves independent of their grandfather's legacy, but not at the expense of their family's dignity. Swati tells Deadline, "We're definitely not the African Kardashians." Seeing as Dorothy has a law degree and an MBA, Zaziwe is a mother of two and involved in the Mandela-Dlamini Associates company, which specializes in international business consulting services, and Swati, also a mother, is setting up a foundation concerning housing, education and medicine programs, that really goes without saying. The series is expected to air early in 2012. -Deadline
Melinda McGraw enjoyed a formidable stint on Mad Men as Don Draper’s mistress Bobbie Barrett—the ‘60s were big on alliterative naming. The actress will be taking another guest role as a woman with a complicated romantic history with a series’ leading man (maybe that’s just her very specific M.O.). McGraw will be guest starring on NCIS as one of many ex-wives of Special Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) on a November episode titled “Devil’s Triangle.” McGraw’s character Diane will, incidentally, also be the ex-wife of NCIS recurring character FBI Agent Tobias Fornell (Joe Spano). So…the crime probably isn’t going to be the most complicated thing in this episode. NCIS airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. -TVGuide
Earlier this month, FX’s Rescue Me was set to rest after seven fruitful seasons, and costar John Scurti is already back onscreen. The series’ lovable Kenny Shea will make a guest appearance on House, playing a clinic patient—presumably with bizarre disease; bizarre enough to attract Dr. House’s (Hugh Laurie) attention, anyway. Scurti’s House episode will air sometime in Nobember. House’s eighth season premieres Monday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. -TVLine
Kids' movies may be the most difficult cinematic mountains to climb. The filmmakers must cater to two perspectives at constant odds with one another: young ones who find amusement in simplistic stories and broadly painted humor and their parents who need enough of a grounded hook emotional core and clever jokes to keep them from nodding off. Not an easy task.
To see this winning combination pulled off by a 3-D animation/live-action hybrid adaptation of a rather irritatingly sweet cartoon from the '80s…well it's both a shocking and welcome surprise. The Smurfs transcends recent property-grabs like Garfield Alvin and the Chipmunks and Marmaduke by embracing the cartooniness relishing in the fact that it can get away with anything with the help of adorable little blue people.
Smurfs takes the model employed by 2007's Enchanted kicking things off in the colorful fantasy world of Smurf Village and quickly bringing its cheery clueless characters to the terrifying metropolis of New York. After Clumsy Smurf accidentally leads the Smurf-obsessive Gargamel (Hank Azaria) to the hidden mushroom haven of his brethren the bumbling black sheep of the Smurf family finds himself and a few clan members Papa Brainy Grumpy Gutsy Smurfette at the wrong end of a Blue Moon-induced worm hole. The group (along with Gargamel and his cat) find themselves face-planted in NYC's Central Park where they meet Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) yes man to the cosmetic titan Odile. This sets the race in motion—the Smurfs enlisting the help of Patrick to find a way back home Patrick seeking the perfect ad campaign for Odile's new make-up line and Gargamel questing hungrily for a few drops of Smurf essence.
If Smurfs was simply a barrage of fart jokes and pop culture references the movie wouldn't click but by giving each of his characters something to do (seems obvious no?) director Raja Gosnell injects the film with a helpful dose of heart. Along with Clumsy's quest to be more than his name insists Harris' Patrick also has his own problems to overcome. Namely preparing to be a Papa Smurf to the kid he's about to have with his wife Grace (Glee's Jayma Mays). Harris and Mays take their roles here seriously going all out when they need to chase the adventurous Smurfs around town in one slapsticky sequence after another but they put just as much into their smaller scenes. One moment where Papa Smurf sits Patrick down for a "Dad talk" even has weight—a near impossible task for a "kids" movie.
But let's not get too sappy: the movie is funny plain and simple. Azaria makes a living bringing cartoon characters to life—he's a reason why The Simpsons has been on for more than 20 years—and his goofy Gargamel antics are inspired. A recurring gag where the evil wizard continually steps through ventilation steam grates probably read fine on paper but Azaria knows how to play big and doesn't allow any moment of physical comedy to lazily fall through the cracks. On the flip side Harris nails the straight man role and acknowledges that hanging out with Smurfs is just as bizarre as you'd imagine. Think The Brady Bunch Movie for the world of animation.
With solid kids' flicks becoming a rare occurrence Smurfs is a breath of fresh air a film that believes in its own simple message while simultaneously being self-aware of its cartoonish heritage. The movie's a smurfy good time but it takes a particularly smurfy Smurf to let go of cynical baggage and smurf it.
Much as I enjoyed X-Men: First Class Fox’s exuberant prequel/reboot (preboot?) of the fabled Marvel Comics series I was a bit disoriented by its opening sequence in which a Mengele-esque Nazi scientist played by Kevin Bacon attempts to coax a terrified young Erik Lensherr a death camp inmate into demonstrating his newly discovered mutant powers. As the interaction transpires the camera does something odd: It remains static holding its gaze on the characters’ faces affording us the rare treat of being able to scrutinize their expressions without the distraction of rapid-fire cuts or circling dollies or palsy-cams or any of the other myriad tools preferred by Hollywood’s increasingly ADD-addled action directors.
Restraint? In a comic book film? Strange but true. Even stranger is that it comes courtesy of director Matthew Vaughn whose previous comic book adaptation Kick-Ass was so over-adrenalized it should have come with a complimentary shot of insulin. Here Vaughn shows greater confidence in his material his actors and most admirably his audience letting the story hold sway unhindered by gimmicky enhancements. First Class is hardly a throwback mind you – it features all of CGI accoutrements one expects from a proper summer blockbuster – but it has a stylish retro sensibility to it that is as refreshing as it is unexpected.
In fact were it not for all of its superhuman characters one might not be able to tell that it’s based on a comic book. Whilst devising an approach suitable for his film’s early ‘60s Cold War setting Vaughn a Brit clearly found inspiration in his country’s most enduring film franchise. First Class bears far more in common with The Spy Who Loved Me than with any of the previous X-Men installments or any other comic book flicks for that matter and is all the better because of it.
Playing Vaughn’s Stromberg is Bacon whose character has graduated from death camp atrocitier to swaggering supervillain in the intervening years since the war’s end. Ensconced in his underwater lair aboard a well-appointed submarine Sebastian Shaw as he has re-christened himself (only in the comic book world does a fugitive Nazi war criminal choose an alias with the initials “S.S.”) is secretly conspiring to ignite a fatal MAD-provoking nuclear conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
No Bond-inspired film would be complete without a dose of benign sexism embodied ably by Mad Men’s January Jones in the role of Shaw’s right-hand woman Emma Frost. A mutant who can read minds and manifest diamond-plated armor Emma’s greatest gift the filmmakers make abundantly clear is her superhuman rack which when activated turns her into a walking honey trap no soldier or government official can resist. (It’s also the movie's most potent marketing weapon.)
Even our hero Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has got a bit of 007’s DNA in him. Cheeky rakish given to funneling beers and hitting on Oxford co-eds McAvoy’s Xavier is a far cry from Patrick Stewart’s stuffy avuncular version of the character. Though his mutant telepathic abilities are highly developed his human intuition isn’t as he scarcely notices the insecurity metastasizing in his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) a blue-skinned shape-shifter in desperate need of validation.
She eventually finds that validation in Lensherr (played as an adult by Michael Fassbender) whose cynical view of humanity bred by prolonged exposure to its more sinister aspects places him at odds with Xavier’s vision of peaceful co-existence between mutants and their unenhanced counterparts. Nevertheless Xavier and Lensherr become fast friends and they agree to collaborate in the recruitment and training of a clandestine force of superhumans capable of stopping Shaw. Shortly thereafter the first-ever mutant all-star team is born.
Anyone vaguely familiar with the comic book knows how this relationship turns out. But Vaughn’s fresh approach to the characters and their underlying motivations helps ameliorate some of the predictability of film’s plot and its inevitable resolution. Like Batman Begins First Class is bound to pursue a pre-determined outcome but it makes brief detours here and there that refresh the franchise without jeopardizing its sacred canon. Vaughn takes great care to appease the film's fanboy base without alienating the broader audience. Though I couldn’t care a whit about Torso-Beam Boy Winged Stripper Girl or a handful of other extraneous characters devotees of the comics will no doubt rejoice in the screen time allotted to their respective backstories.
There are a handful of moments when Vaughn’s ambitions exceed his effects budget but for the most part he proves a dexterous purveyor of popcorn theatrics. Some of the best bits including a spectacular sequence in which an anchor tears through the deck of a luxury yacht have been spoiled by the film’s trailers but they still impress when writ large on the big screen. And there are a few surprises in First Class that remain thankfully unspoiled. Better see it quick before the next ad campaign debuts.
Kidney surgery wasn't enough to keep Steven Spielberg from making an impassioned plea for diversity. The 53-year-old director skipped the red carpet arrivals but mustered the strength to make it to the podium at the 31st NAACP Image Awards on Saturday in Pasadena, Calif.
Only a few days after having a kidney removed, the filmmaker -- looking no worse for his recent wear -- urged his peers in the industry to continue to "expand the opportunities of the portrayal of diversity in all medium." His call to action came after receiving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Vanguard Award for his "pioneering courage to promote social justice through creative endeavors."
"A couple of days ago, I was in the hospital,'' the director said. ``This is the first time I've been out since my operation and it feels like a dream, an absolute dream.''
Spielberg was praised by the NAACP for tackling issues of diversity in films such as "The Color Purple" and "Amistad" -- even if more than a decade ago, questions as to whether Spielberg, as a white guy, was qualified to direct the story of black women in "The Color Purple" seemingly undermined the flick's chances for the 1985 Academy Awards. (It got 11 nods -- and zero wins.)
The night's big-screen acting awards, meanwhile, went to "The Best Man's" Nia Long and "The Hurricane's" Denzel Washington. The former pic was also the overall winner for outstanding motion picture. Washington's award, after his Golden Globe win for best actor, bodes well for his Oscar chances as wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.
Less recognized by the NAACP on the night of the Image Awards were the accomplishments of the television industry. The group had previously announced that it had trouble finding enough minority characters on the small screen to honor. On the television front (such as it was), "ER's" Eriq LaSalle and "The Steve Harvey Show's " Steve Harvey were the winning actors in the drama and comedy categories, while "Touched by an Angel's" Della Reese and "Sister, Sister's" Tia and Tamera Mowry were the recognized actresses for drama and comedy series, respectively. Overall, "The Steve Harvey Show" was tapped best comedy, "Touched By an Angel" best drama.
Another notable winner: Rosa Parks. The real-life crusader, whose refusal to move to the back of a Alabama bus in 1955 sparked the modern-day civil rights movement, was honored for her work as an actress in a guest spot on CBS' "Touched By an Angel."
The Image Awards honor the work of minorities in film, TV, music and books. The awards will be presented in an April 6 telecast on Fox.
Here's a complete list of the 31st NAACP Image Awards winners:
Outstanding Motion Picture - "The Best Man" Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture - Denzel Washington, "The Hurricane" Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture - Nia Long, "The Best Man" Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture - Terrence Howard, "The Best Man" Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture - Angela Bassett, "Music of the Heart"
Youth Actor/Actress - Jurnee Smollett in "Cosby"
Outstanding Comedy Series - "The Steve Harvey Show" Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series - Steve Harvey, "The Steve Harvey Show" Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series - Tia Mowry and Tamera Mowry, "Sister, Sister" Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series - Cedric "The Entertainer," "The Steve Harvey Show" Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series - Jackee Harry, "Sister, Sister" Outstanding Drama Series - "Touched by an Angel" Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series - Eriq La Salle, "ER" Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series - Della Reese, "Touched By an Angel" Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series - Clarence Gilyard, "Walker, Texas Ranger" Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series - Rosa Parks, "Touched By an Angel" Outstanding Television Movie/Mini-Series/Dramatic Special - "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie/Mini-Series/Dramatic Special - Sidney Poitier, "The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn" Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie/Mini-Series/Dramatic Special - Halle Berry, "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama Series - Shemar Moore, "The Young and The Restless" Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series - Tonya Lee Williams, "The Young and the Restless" Outstanding Variety Series/Special - "1999 Essence Awards" Outstanding Performance in a Variety Series/Special - Steve Harvey, "It's Showtime at the Apollo" Outstanding News, Talk or Information Series - "BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley: Black Men in Crisis" (BET) Outstanding News, Talk or Information Special - "True Life: I Am Driving While Black" (MTV) Outstanding Youth or Children's Series/Special - "Teen Summit" (BET) Outstanding Performance in a Youth or Children's Series/Special - Lynn Whitfield, "The Planet of Junior Brown"
Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction - "Blues: For All Changes" by Nikki Giovanni Outstanding Literary Work, Non-Fiction - "Yesterday, I Cried" by Iyanla Vanzant Outstanding Literary Work, Children's - "If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks" by Faith Ringgold
Outstanding New Artist - Eve - "Ruff Ryder's First Lady" Outstanding Male Artist - Brian McKnight - "Back At One" Outstanding Female Artist - Whitney Houston, featuring Faith Evans and Kelly Price - "Heartbreak Hotel" Outstanding Duo or Group - Destiny's Child - "The Writing's On The Wall" Outstanding Rap Artist - Will Smith - "Wild Wild West" Outstanding Jazz Artist - Quincy Jones - "From Q, With Love" Outstanding Gospel Artist - Traditional - Vickie Winans - "Live in Detroit II" Outstanding Gospel Artist - Contemporary - Yolanda Adams - "Mountain High ... Valley Low" Outstanding Music Video - "Wild Wild West" - Will Smith (directed by Paul Hunter) Outstanding Song - "Spend My Life With You" - Songwriters: Eric Benet, George Nash Jr., Demonte Posey (Artist: Eric Benet) Outstanding Album - "The Best Man - Music from the Motion Picture" - Various Artists (Columbia).