Fox began in 1986 as an attempt to establish a fourth network. It succeeded by taking gambles to distinguish itself from NBC, CBS, and ABC. Series like Married…with Children, 21 Jump Street, and The Tracy Ullman Show not only brought commercial success to the network but also defined television. The network continues to buck the system to this day. It’s gearing up for major changes that seem to be paying off.
Fox has always explored more risqué humor and often focuses on working class families. This began with Married…with Children, which opened the door to future critically acclaimed series like Malcolm in the Middle and Raising Hope. This eventually led to the success of ABC’s The Middle. 21 Jump Street led to the eventual development of the teen drama and nighttime soap with shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. The entire line-up of The CW can thank Fox.
Ullman’s comedy series was a sketch series centered around a comedian. Doesn’t that sound like a ton of Comedy Central series? It also spawned The Simpsons, one of the longest running series on television. Fox was also a driving force in creating animated series for adults. It has had major success with Family Guy, Futurama, and Bob’s Burgers.
Fox was also at the forefront of the reality television craze. It was probably one of the most overzealous with a ton of bizarre reality shows. Cops and When Animals Attack gave way to the ratings behemoth American Idol. There were also the low points of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? But let’s be honest, is that show much different from The Bachelor? The network has prudently reined in their reality television in favor or more scripted series which is working.
The network’s current line-up of shows definitely breaks barriers. The network has not shied away from being diverse. The casts of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Sleepy Hollow are full of people of color playing against stereotype. Both shows have been wins for the network. Brooklyn Nine-Nine won a Golden Globe and Sleepy Hollow is boosting the network’s ratings. The network also gave Mindy Kaling her own sitcom. It’s is a big deal considering an Asian woman hasn’t headlined her own series since Margaret Cho, and TMP is the first American network sitcom to have an Indian-American woman as the series lead.
The network isn’t afraid to play with unique premises. On paper, Sleep Hollow seems like Ichabod Crane meets a sassy cop. But it’s so much more. Series lead Nicole Beharie plays an intelligent, sympathetic, female action hero and is in no way a sassy stereotype. Almost Human tackles the complicated premise of a procedural crime drama set in the future. Shows about the future have so much trouble. And yet, this series smartly blends its premise with the popular 1970s buddy cop genre to make a show that works.
Network chairman Kevin Reilly made headlines when he said the network would be opting out of pilot season. This is a pretty controversial move considering so much of Hollywood production and casting is built around pilot season. However, with original programming getting produced for cable networks and streaming sites like Amazon and Netflix, there’s an added pressure to make groundbreaking and entertaining television. So Fox is putting on their competition pants.
Fox’s upcoming series are no less risky. The network is planning a sitcom about stand-up comic John Mulaney. Gotham is a drama series about the characters from the Batman franchise, but features Bruce Wayne as a child. There is an American version of David Tennant’s detective series Broadchurch. There’s even Hieroglyph, a drama series about Ancient Egypt!? Talk about a wide net.
It seems like the network has no intentions of changing its penchant for taking chances. No network can guarantee a stronghold on ratings and Fox’s gambles do not always pay off (re: Dads). But the network’s many crazy chances have resulted in some major shifts in television and made Fox a major player in the ratings game.
20th Century Fox
While Runner Runner sets up to be a high-risk thriller with Justin Timberlake gallivanting through Costa Rica, it's more of a lukewarm, predictable take on the old in-way-over-your-head story. The film promises to take us deep into the underworld of online poker, but settles on trying to pacify us with wealth, scantily clad women, and cliché one-liners like, "At Princeton, you’re either bred for it, or you bleed for it," and, "The house always wins."
Runner Runner stars Timberlake as Princeton grad student Richie Furst who loses all of his tuition money in an online gambling scam. Backed up against the wall, Furst shows his thirst for money (and rash decision-making skills) and jets off to Costa Rica in search of Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the charmingly sly ringleader of the online poker site. Once he's face to face with the infamous offshore entrepreneur, Furst gets a compelling (and suspicious) offer: he can either take the money that was swindled from him and go back to the U.S. or stay and work for Block and make millions of dollars. It takes all of three seconds for Furst to agree to the latter. What follows is a perfunctory 60 minutes of Timberlake having a passionless romance with Block's beautiful right-hand woman (Gemma Arterton), avoiding a cheeky F.B.I. agent (Anthony Mackie), blackmailing people he doesn't know, and making overall poor choices that make us wonder why we're even supposed to be rooting for this seemingly dimwitted protagonist who has so few redeeming qualities, if any at all.
Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the duo that brought us the gambling flick Rounders in 1998, Runner Runner advertises countless thrills, but as soon as we think we're about to hit a climax or an "Aha!" moment, we're let down by unfulfilling (and often unnecessary) plot twists that director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Laywer) attempts to disguise with the glitzy Costa Rican lifestyle. Instead of one cohesive plotline, we're taken along a bumpy ride through an underdeveloped and disjointed story that would be better off with fewer ingredients. By having too many storylines that are never brought to completion, we're left confused by the vagueness of it all.
And when the plot starts to go downhill and we don't know where to turn, we look to the characters to save the day, but unfortunately, nearly none of them have any meat to them (except for Affleck, whose strong and convincing performance as immoral Block is comprised of his trademark charm and an emerging inner villain who wants to come out to play). Too bad Affleck's character doesn't get as much screentime as he deserves. Instead, we're left with Timberlake (who fails to convince the audience that he can play any other character than Justin Timberlake), the handful of supporting characters that are never fleshed out, and poor Gemma Arterton, who plays a woman who lacks chemistry (which isn't entirely her fault) with both Timberlake and Affleck. Runner Runner makes us apathetic to both the characters and the plot, which leaves us feeling completely uninvested. For a film about gambling, an inherent game of risk and reward, Runner Runner takes little to no chances and ends up with a losing hand.
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We’ve seen many different sides to Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) on Arrow. His island self: a scared, reformed party boy in over his head trying to survive in a nightmare situation. His post-island self: a tough, brutal warrior trying to clean up Starling City by taking down the corrupt and evil. His post-island façade: the face he shows his family and the public, a light, happy-go-lucky party boy with a darker edge. And now Oliver is about to show us a new, never-before-seen side: his pre-island self.
In this hot new clip of Thursday’s episode, "The Undertaking," we see just how much of a douche pre-island Oliver was… not that we didn’t already have an inkling. This is a guy who cheated on his girlfriend, Laurel (Katie Cassidy) with her sister, Sarah, which led to said sister’s death. Check out just how much pre-island Oliver sucked as he kisses Laurel goodbye — while Sarah sneaks on board the fateful yacht that will spark the events of The CW’s newest hit show.
Watching Moira (Susanna Thompson) try to talk Oliver out of leaving with his father Robert (Jamey Sheridan) in the flashback makes us wonder: Did Moira know about the Queen’s Gambit shipwreck before the Queen men set sail? We know she knew about the tampered boat after the fact, but would she really have let her son go if she knew he wouldn’t return? Or is Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) the real culprit behind the shipwreck? In the episode, Malcolm also reveals to Robert painful details surrounding his wife's murder, and how that shaped his plans for the Glades… meaning we will finally learn the details of his mysterious Undertaking scheme.
As if that wasn’t enough drama to keep you hooked, Thursday’s new episode also has Oliver finding it difficult to mend fences with Tommy (Colin Donnell) and Diggle (David Ramsey), so he instead focuses on crossing another name off the list. While digging through a crooked accountant's laptop, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) discovers a transaction that could help Oliver find Walter. To reconfirm the lead, Oliver gambles that Felicity can be counted on in the field for the first time. Meanwhile, Tommy stuns Laurel with the truth.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 PM ET/PT on The CW.
Follow Sydney on Twitter: @SydneyBucksbaum
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Television fans are a unique set. We're the type of people who devote hours upon hours a week to our fictional, televised friends. We laugh at their jokes and cry when they cry because our favorite shows are just so darn good. But the intensity of the laughter and the tears is all thanks to the fact that we regard these characters as something of a family. We know them. We understand them. We love them unconditionally. And these shows deserve recognition for being able to elicit that level of a reaction from their fans. Naturally, when they're not given their due, we're forced to react, well, emotionally. How, exactly, will we react? That depends on the show in question. Next up is the arguably the most visually stunning, and certainly one of the most addictive dramas of all-time, Game of Thrones.
Given its massive crossover appeal and widespread critical acclaim, it's crazy to think that just a couple of years ago the concept of bringing George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series to the small screen was seen as a huge gamble. It was expensive. It was violent. It had more characters, plot lines, and exotic settings than anything that had ever been seen on television. But most of all, it was fantasy — a previously "nerds only" genre that never really been tested for a television audience.
Thankfully, that's what HBO does — they gamble. Sometimes they hit the jackpot, sometimes they end up with multiple horses with broken legs. But Game of Thrones has been one of their most bankable gambles yet, and with good reason — the cast is stellar, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have so far done a great job in adapting two sprawling, madcap, epic novels into only twenty engaging hours of television. (Trust me, if they tried to fit in everything from the source material it would be more like 100. Also, it would be terrible.) They've cut slower plot lines and brought new life to others (case in point: Arya and Tywin at Harrenhal, Theon in general), combined ancillary characters to eliminate confusing, time consuming exposition, and found a number of perfect filming locations that have made Westeros a vibrant character in and of itself. If only we could say the same for the Harry Potter films.
Just look at one of this season's standout episodes, "Blackwater" — despite not having the budget to recreate the exact battle depicted in the book, Benioff, Weiss, and director Neil Marshall created a haunting spectacle, that was especially powerful because it was seen from the unique perspective of Tyrion (Supporting Actor nominee Peter Dinklage), the dwarf. We felt his fear, we stared his enemy in the face, and, most memorably, we got a firsthand look at the terrifying confusion of hand-to-hand combat.
And that wasn't even the best part of the episode! Benioff, Weiss, Marshall, and Martin himself, who penned the script, made the wise decision to make this the first (and so far, only) episode to take place in only one location — King's Landing. While the boys were out killing each other, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey, who absolutely should have been nominated) stole the episode as she panicked over the thought of losing power. She dealt with this panic by drinking her weight in wine, mentally torturing Sansa Stark with some of the most brilliant dialogue seen all season, ordering an executioner to stay by her side in case the Lannisters lost (so that the ladies could be quickly beheaded, rather than raped and enslaved by the opposition, obviously), and preparing a poison for her young son — because death, in Cersei's eyes, is better than captivity. It was MADNESS.
Overall, the power and quality of GoT can be seen in the fervor found in its dedicated fan base — millions of diverse people that have now been turned on to a genre that rightfully deserves a place on television. Stories about kings, dragons, and sorcery can be undeniably cheesy, but in the right hands, they can also be really freaking great.
So, if Game of Thrones doesn't win any Emmy gold on Sunday, here's what I'm going to do: Remember that sweet little episode back in season one, where Daenerys' lovely bro Viserys kindly asked Khal Drogo for his "birthright" crown of gold? Yeah, well, that didn't go too well for him. So I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I also own a giant, pure-gold authentic Dothraki belt that I got on sale at Forever 21. And I just-so-happen to have a backstage pressroom pass to the Emmys. I will somehow incorporate this chunky golden belt into my Emmy outfit, and melt it over the fire pit that the Emmy elves light in the pressroom to keep us warm. They're so nice like that.
Once Game of Thrones loses (because it probably will), I will take my molten gold and dump it over the head of the winning showrunner. See you in Hell, Vince Gilligan or Matt Weiner!*
*Just kidding. I love Mad Men and Breaking Bad, too. I just really want Game of Thrones to win, okay?
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: HBO]
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Over the course of 11 seasons of American Idol, only one contestant outside the South has basked in a confetti shower. Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, Kris Allen, and Scotty McCreery were all winners raised below the Mason Dixon line. The one outlier? Illinois-born and -bred Lee DeWyze, who messes up the southern Idol theory as much as Season 9 messed up our ears and souls.
Heading into Season 11's finale, it's hard to ignore those demographics — especially seeing our one non-southern contestant, California's own Jessica Sanchez, shockingly advanced into the final two. Can we expect a true nail-biter next week, or should we go ahead and reward the prize to the southern Phillip?
At least we can count on a fair fight, as far as the judges’ are concerned. It’s no secret that our panel of three favored Joshua since the finals begin — Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, and Steven Tyler gave the contestant just as many standing ovations as Idol has given us awkward Ford Music videos. But as much as I want to praise Jennifer for providing comfort to Joshua as he sang his final swan song, “This is a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” I can’t. Because, plain and simple, it’s her fault that Thursday night’s elimination was a shocking one.
The reasons behind Joshua’s elimination are threefold: First, Joshua lost fans during the course of the competition because of the unabashed favoritism. Sure, we were pulled into the singer during his first performance, “You Pulled Me Through,” but it wasn’t long before the incessant standing ovations — an occurrence that used to be as refreshingly rare on Idol as a lucid Paula Abdul critique — began to grate on the voting public like they were Reed Grimm. (Ugh, gross!) Why should we back Idol’s favorite son when the under-appreciated are being so overlooked?
Secondly, our panel of three Archuleta-ed poor Joshua. Leading into the Season 7 finale, young judge favorite David Archuleta was all but guaranteed the Idol crown. Simon Cowell had already named him the season’s winner — and last time he did that, Carrie Underwood was treated to a rightful confetti shower. Instead, Cowell’s words drove David Cook’s fans to pick up their phones like they were in Bye Bye Birdie (that comparison brought to you by Uncle Nigel Lythgoe), and Cook was named our American Idol while Archuleta fans wondered why they had assumed their favorite’s safety. Same goes for Wednesday night — with Joshua awarded one standing ovation, and a 13-week stamp of approval, his fans likely felt there was little point spending their nights tied to a busy signal. Thanks to the judges’ constant approval, Joshua had to be as safe as a performance of “Imagine,” right?
And finally, our three judges managed to screw Joshua professionally too. Jimmy Iovine was absolutely right to label Joshua “overblown” and “overemotional” during his Wednesday night performances — but we can’t blame the contestant. After all, from his eyes, why should he fix what doesn’t appear to be broken? If the judges never told him to add subtly to his personal dictionary, why should he be expected to deliver the word? Now, I understand our panel of three are about as subtle as a Jennifer Lopez relationship in 2003, but constructive criticism is necessary to guide the voting public, and, more importantly, to help our finalists grow even stronger. After all, there’s a reason Jimmy has astutely pointed out Phillip’s growing originality over the past 13 weeks. Joshua, meanwhile, had yet to fall flat on his face, sure, but he also had yet to improve. And as soon as you plateau on Idol, it’s high time you fall.
So, sorry, Jennifer, you might cry and scream about this seemingly unfair and shocking elimination, but you have no one to blame but yourself. If you do choose to return next season, remember that an Idol judge always rolls the dice — and gambles with a singer’s future — when choosing a favorite. Now, excuse me as I get back to wondering whether I should report myself to my neighbors just for noticing Jessica’s cut-out dress.
Were you surprised by the results? Do you, like me, think the judges are at least partly responsible? Was the trio’s “Got To Get You Into My Life” the best opening number of the year? Does Jessica stand a chance of beating a southerner? Is she more of a Michael or a Jermaine? Or a Tito? When did Adam Lambert become so boring? How did Idol manage to book Tim Burton’s wet dream? What’s that? You didn’t say you wanted to see Ice Age, no matter how much Idol is shoving it down your face like it’s Casper Smart? And remember Reed Grimm? Ugh, the worst!
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
[Image Credit: FOX]
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1. Three Stooges: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come
We're in an unfortunate situation with this Three Stooges mess. Comedy, like sexuality, is generational and evolves as each group of young folk asserts their own sensibilities. This is not the case with great drama, Romeo & Juliet, or great tragedy, er ... also Romeo and Juliet. But Titanic works for either genre too, while we're at it. Love isn't generational, which is why remaking classic tales makes fiscal sense. But while The Three Stooges, a broad physical comedy, is the grandfather to something like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, it certainly doesn’t belong anywhere near a theater in 2011.
Which brings us squarely back to Harry, Moe, and Curly, gentlemen who redefined comedy in the 1930s. For their time and place, they were a pioneering spirit, extremely deserving of accolades. Other creative forces have taken a turn at bat since then, the baton passed from Monty Python's goofy brilliance to Christopher Guest's dry satire to Dave Chappelle's pointed hybrid stand-up routine (though not in that exact order, of course).
But each and every time the game changed it came out of a sense of innovation, not by paying homage to the past. Even The Farrelly's own style has been lapped by Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips. And so the decision to bring back The Three Stooges is nothing short of confounding, as there is almost no foreseeable route to success. If they change the comedy of The Three Stooges then naming the film after them was pointless. But if they don't change the comedy no one under the age of 80 will consider it fresh. They've already dug themselves a hell of a hole. Can they "Nyuck, Nyuck" their way of trouble? All the signs point to a poke in the eye.
2. The Rules of The Academy Awards
Every year, about this time, my friends start up with their litany of complaints. "But Inception was the Best Picture of the year!" they'll whine. This may be true. It also has very little to do with how The Academy thinks, or what the goal of the little golden statues is.
Look at the narrative that will be reported the day after The Academy Awards, and you'll become the best Oscar predictor in your neighborhood. Think "What will The Academy be saying by rewarding this particular film or this particular actor?" In Inception's case they'd be rewarding a high concept sci-fi film that was part of the summer blockbuster season. Not going to happen. Yes, Inception will get a Best Picture nomination, because the "Nolan was robbed" vibe persists from The Dark Knight and the "We gotta have the kids watching!" theme is powerful motivation. But it can't possibly win. No way, no how.
Black Swan could win, but it's probably too dark, and Aronofsky’s previous film, The Wrestler, was already dinged for that. Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours has pedigree and would allow The Academy to support a hopeful message of human perseverance. True Grit, from the brothers Coen, pays homage to Hollywood's glory days, making it a prime contender. The King's Speech is a prototypical "triumphing over adversity" tale, but Oscar may not love that America doesn't have much to do with it. Finally, The Social Network is about computer geeks, so there's pretty much no way it can achieve the voting bloc needed given the voter demographic.
Thankfully, there are a few interesting calls left, and drama can found. Here's a few of the active "buzz' battles, fights where the outcome is still in doubt :
Natalie Portman vs. Annette Bening for Best Actress: Portman will be tempting because she's paid her dues with a previous nomination and it feels like she's been around forever, even though she's not even 30 years old. But Bening's portrayal of a same sex spouse is a movement The Academy loves to support.
Prediction: Portman wins because Black Swan won't win Best Picture and The Kids Are All Right wasn't in theaters recently enough.
Colin Firth vs. James Franco for Best Actor: Franco fulfills the "young" goal, but Firth has been around longer and you never know if he'll be back. The wildcard in this equation is Franco hosting. Is this a tacit admission that he probably won't win?
Prediction: It pains me, because I liked Franco's performance better, but Firth has the momentum right now. If 127 Hours can have a December like Slumdog Millionaire then he'll be back on top as the favorite.
David Fincher, The Social Network vs. Joel and Ethan Coen True Grit for Best Director: True Grit is strong Best Picture contender, but Joel and Ethan have already won Best Director for No Country for Old Men. Fincher is coming off a nomination in 2008 for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button so he's already on The Academy's radar.
Prediction: This feels like a consolation for Fincher, because I can't see The Academy giving Social Network any credence in any of the other main categories.
Of course, we've got another seven weeks until nominations are announced, and films like The Fighter and Somewhere could still make late pushes. Remember, it doesn't matter who is better, it only matters who has the momentum when members sit down to vote.
3. Tron: Legacy and The Future of $200m Movies
Paranormal Activity 2 cost $3m to make. There are rumors that Tron Legacy's production budget was around $200m. Paranormal Activity 2, the homegrown suspense film, cleared $166m worldwide, for a profit of $160m or so (minus marketing, print, and theater split costs). Let's call it a $100m win, and the DVD will bring in even more profits. To make that level of profit, Tron: Legacy will need clear something like $600m worldwide, a number about 50 films have hit all-time.
So why wouldn’t a studio take 50x more shots on low budget items over the course of this decade? Hollywood is notoriously risk adverse, and anyone who can figure out how to consistently deliver them a film for $3m will have massive amounts of leverage. The amount of people who can turn in a profitable film with a $200m budget isn’t more than a dozen. But $3m? The directing world will only get more fragmented, because the days of $200m gambles are coming to a close.
On that note, I hope you have a weekend full of massive profits with low overhead!
Check out last week's Movie Musings here
Laremy is the lead critic and senior producer for a website named Film.com. He's also available on Twitter.