Monday, February 23, 2015

Ways the Oscars Can Save Time

The Oscars can are well-known for being too long.  Part of that is intentional, ABC certainly wants the ratings that ideally come from an annual event as well as all of the commercials.  I think that the Oscars made some good strides to create a tighter show this year (which I will detail below).  Part of the reason that the show was so good was that a lot of the acceptance speeches were really heartfelt and appropriately acknowledged serious issues with the gravity they deserved.  The five nominees for best songs were also a diverse bunch that lead to five well produced jolts of energy throughout the show.  But those two factors can vary.  There are several things within the producers control that they work towards in terms of improving the flow of the show.  I am a pretty big stickler with the timing of live shows.  I stand by the belief that comedy cannot work over an hour and a half.  Tighter shows have higher energy, less lulls and leave on a high note.  The Oscars would be tough to get down to an hour an a half, but they should easily be able to whittle down by a half hour to a full hour.

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1. A Host That Moves Things Along
As with most Oscar hosts NPH already seems a bit polarizing.  Which always astounds me, what does the internet want in an Oscar host?  Every year seems to be "the worst."  But bottom line for me is that Neil Patrick Harris got the show off to a great start and he kept it moving.  He was efficient in announcing presenters, kept the energy up and his jokes did not were quick and to the point.  He brought some class and a good sense of humor.  I know some wanted more jokes and gags, but a good emcee doesn't make the show about himself.  The Oscars needs to look for more hosts like him or even have him back.

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2. Best Supporting Actor Right Off the Bat
There was no monologue after the opening number, which I am sure that some missed.  But transitioning right from the musical number into a major category set a good precedent for the night.  Immediately we were seeing the results of an important category, it was a great hook.  It also kept the energy of the song moving into the ceremony.  They should stick with this format.

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3. No Montages
This is another thing that the Oscars did well this year.  There were no montages (aside from In Memoriam, which is different).  This was one of my main complaints about the SNL 40th Reunion, it is a YouTube generation and we have access to any clips they might shows.  Montages have taken up a lot of time in previous ceremonies and they chose wisely to exclude them.

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4. Cut the Running Gags
This was one of the missteps in the hosting of the Awards (although more likely the writing and producing).  NPH took a lot of time to set up and legitimize his predictions and continued to remind audiences about the bit throughout the show.  Then, while the Oscars were running over four hours and we were finally getting to the four main categories he completed a lengthy punchline for a gag the audience had lost interest in.  Not to mention the punchline (which honestly included some funny jokes)  was inconsequential just recapped what we all saw (and Live Tweeted on top of that).

Running gags are tough in a format like this.  It isn't a through line and there is no way to maintain the momentum that those types of jokes require.  More bits like the Birdman/Whiplash gag would be preferable, that was so much more effective.

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5. No Tributes
I have already had disagreements with people about the Sound of Music tribute.  First off I thought that Lady Gaga did an amazing job and of course it is always great to see Julie Andrews.  But in the context of a show that was getting close to 10:30 (central time) I was getting frustrated.  There were eight categories remaining and the tribute included a montage (see Number 3).  I think that the idea of giving a tribute to a classic is better in theory than in execution.  This was one of the bigger time wasters that did not fit the rest of the night.  The Academy should just produce another event where they can just focus solely on that movie.

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6. Sing the In Memoriam Song During the In Memoriam Montage
This is something I have wondered for years.  Why do they play the In Memoriam montage and then follow it with a song?  Why not sing the song during the montage?  It is possible that the producers don't want people clapping and interrupting the song and the singer wouldn't want to be upstaged during their performance.  However the song would probably last longer than the montage, so the performer would still be highlighted.  But this is one of those little changes that would make a big impact in the overall flow of things.

Also do better research.  The internet catches omissions every year and it looks forward to doing it.

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7. No Bits for Presenters/No Presenters That Waste Time
The presenters were really good this year.  Mainly because they followed NPH's lead of performing in the service of the show.  They kept things moving and for the most part did not make it about themselves.  For the most part the presenters that bantered did it effectively (Kendrick & Hart, Saldana & Johnson).  But then there was Travolta and Idina Menzel.

The bit made sense, Adele Dazeem was a popular meme.  But NPH had just made a good joke about it and the presenter bit really dragged.  When presenters joke excessively it can often seem self-serving and causes the show to lose momentum.  In the past presenters like Kirk Douglas have really been guilty of this.  The Oscars need to continue choosing presenters that are as efficient as most of this years.

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8. Brief Recaps of the Honorary Oscars and Science Awards
One of the things last night's show did better than most was that the recaps of the Honorary and Science Awards were brief.  I would not cut these segments because they do bring some perspective to the ceremony.  This industry is not just about the flashy celebrity awards, but it relies on legacies and under acknowledged technical developments.  The length and editing of the recaps were quick and properly acknowledged the people who deserved it.  They need to continue this format.

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9. Don't Recap the Nominees
This was not as bad as it has been in previous years.  Grouping Best Picture nominees together rather than individually taking the time to acknowledge them saved time.  But again, the audience has phones and can look up any movie they did not see.  And anyone with an Oscar invitation knows the competition and the nominees essentially recap the Best Pictures anyways.  Again, little thing that would make a large difference in the long run.

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10. No Reaction Shots of Nominees
I realized that there were no shots of the contenders after their clips were shown while the nominees were being read.  This helped out with the flow of each category and saved time overall.  They need to keep this up.

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11. Fewer Commercials or Get a Few Sponsors for the Night
Commercials are an albatross that television needs to figure out a way to get off of its neck (just as I need to figure out a better analogy).  They are especially difficult in a long broadcast like this.  Working out a deal with a few sponsors to limit the commercials for the night would be a revolutionary precedent that would be great publicity for the awards, network and advertisers.  Network TV needs to change its game plan eventually, this is one of those areas they need to look into.

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12. Start Earlier
So if the Oscars only run for two and a half hours, why not move them back an hour and a half?  Start the red carpet coverage around 4:30 central and begin the Oscars at the start of primetime.  People would be more likely to tune in since the awards would finish at a decent hour.  Since the show would be tighter the Oscars could function as a lead-in for other programming.  I love Jimmy Kimmel's post-Oscar shows, but never watch them because they start close to midnight.  Improve the scheduling along with the timing.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Comedy from the Middle of Nowhere Episode 3

Latest episode of Comedy from the Middle of Nowhere is an interview with Theatre B founding member, executive director and actress Carrie Wintersteen.  Carrie is currently starring in Wit at Theatre B until October 18.  More information on the show can be found here: or their website

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Comedy from the Middle of Nowhere Episode 2

The second episode of Comedy from the Middle of Nowhere features guest artist Monika Browne.  Browne is a writer and performer who resides in Valley City.  Browne can currently be seen in Tin Roof Theatre Company's production of Judgement at Nuremberg.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Comedy from the Middle of Nowhere Episode 1: My Most Recent Project

I have not been been blogging in a long time, because I have been picking up various projects.  My most recent one is a late night talk show for Moorhead Community Access.  In the show I interview local artists and just have fun.  This is the first interview with the great comedian, Jason Jacobson.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New Podcast: Comics in Widescreen

Working on a new podcast this summer with Charles Crane and Erik Brodsho called Comics in Widescreen.  We are meeting each week to discuss something related to superhero movies.  Our first episode is all about the unforgivable mess, Amazing Spider-Man 2.

We are still working on some technical things so it is not on iTunes yet.  But it can be downloaded for free here:!XF0xVBAZ!8xwG3qu2A6YNlnf0Hf7aQ3EkIQTbapnZHa82i8h8SN8

You can also listen to it on my YouTube channel.  I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

NBC Sitcoms 2013-14: Renewals and Cancelations

Parks and Recreation
While this show is not the ratings success that The Office was or the Emmy favorite that was 30 Rock this remains NBC's most dependable sitcom.  Going into its seventh season this is the only show that could still be considered Must See TV even if ratings have never backed it up.  By the time sitcoms get to six seasons they usually experience a drop in quality, but Parks and Rec still feels fresh.  Everyone involved clearly loves being on this program and the writing is as sharp as ever.  The show survived the loss of Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe and the diminished role of Chris Pratt by increasing the importance of the dependable Retta, adding in the lively Billy Eichner and continuing to include memorable guest stars with the brilliant Sam Elliott being the best of the bunch.  The show is taking a big risk by jumping ahead seven years in the timeline, but then again this show has always been about big risks.  This show has always overcome its obstacles because it is clearly a project of passion for the artists and the audience.  Next season is its final one and it is good that it will end on its own terms, but that is not good for NBC who will essentially be starting fresh with comedy if their new shows continue to falter.  I am a little nervous because the series has not been scheduled for the fall.  It will most likely premiere mid-season (possibly to accommodate new movie star Chris Pratt?) or will replace an early cancelation (my money is on A to Z).

About a Boy
Extremely notable as NBC's first new sitcom to get a second season in two years.  NBC is no longer the home of comedy that it once was but this pleasant dramedy seems to be doing well on Tuesdays.  This is NBC's third Jason Katim's series based on a movie and his experience shows.  The kid is well cast, Minnie Driver is fun on a sitcom but the real reason to watch the show is David Walton.  Walton, who was a stand-out on New Girl and the failed NBC sitcom Bent, plays the type of man-child we have seen in a dozen other sitcoms.  Yet his distinct likability and sincerity makes him a great character to base a series around.  I am happy to see this continue.  Also notable for having a unique crossover with Katim's Parenthood.  Walton had a small cameo on that show this season while Dax Shepard had a similar cameo on this one, making for an interesting shared California universe.

Never got to the six seasons and the movie that fans have been hoping for, well on NBC anyways.  It really is astonishing that this series made it to five seasons on network television.  It has always done horrible in ratings, has always been put on hiatuses and even had a change in show runner before hiring Dan Harmon back.  But for the five seasons we had we got a real special show and last season was one of its best.  Dan Harmon did a great job re-establishing the premises and making it more accessible.  The exit of Troy was meaningful and Pierce seems to mean more in death than he ever did in life.  The addition of Jonathan Banks has done wonders for the group dynamic.  The show was still funny, insightful and heartfelt.  I hope that a sixth season shows up on another network or online, but NBC unfortunately didn't have much more to gain from it.

Welcome to the Family
This was one of the earliest cancelations of the TV season and I am not quite sure why.  Like many modern sitcoms it is not laugh out loud funny, it is much more like a half hour dramedy.  But there is a pleasantness and likability that this had that was lacking in many other new shows.  This could have improved with a second season, as many shows with a decent foundation do.  The highlight was Ricardo Antonio Chavira who is deserving of a leading role, but Mike O'Malley, Mary McCormack and Justina Machado were also great in their roles.  The show did not reinvent the wheel, but not all sitcoms should.  I saw more potential here, but clearly most people did not.

Michael J. Fox Show
One of several new shows that did not service the star it was based around.  Much was made of Michael J. Fox's return to acting, but his titular show was a dud.  It definitely tried, but the talking heads segments did not fit the style of the show, the jokes weren't funny and the supporting characters didn't work.  Despite the good overall premise of a father with Parkinsons going back to work the individual episodes did not have much going on.  It was just a dull show.  NBC was banking on a lot with this as they beat out all of the other networks in a bidding war but it did not do anything for them.

Sean Saves the World
This was another one that I personally think was canceled too soon.  It was not brilliant by any means and never stood above the competition.  But unlike most modern multi-cam sitcoms this show understands how that format should work.  Sean Hayes is great at playing to a studio audience and his physicality brings a lot of energy that most modern sitcoms lack.  Thomas Lennon also is pitch perfect in his gimmicky character role, he finds loads of weird idiosyncrasies that are just entertaining.  This series was pleasant, balanced work comedy with home comedy and most notably dealt with homosexuality in an extremely progressive way.  Sean's sexuality is openly acknowledged but is never treated like a joke.  This show really could have improved had it received a second season, but not many people seemed to like it.

Growing Up Fisher
I only saw the first episode and it was good enough, but not good enough to keep me coming back.  The highlight is clearly J.K. Simmons who is perfect in a goofy dad role, but aside from him there was not much that stood out.  The Goldbergs and Surviving Jack were other new shows that were structured around a narrator recounting his childhood and this series just felt redundant.  It was probably always just meant to be a mid-season filler.

ABC 2013-14 Sitcoms: Renewals and Cancellations

Modern Family
The show that turned comedy on ABC around continues to be its foundation and most consistent series.  With constant reruns on USA and syndication it is still going strong and is one of the top choice's for viewers who want a laugh.  It is easy to overlook as it is so dependable at the Emmy's while internet darlings never get noticed, but this show is the real deal.  The chemistry among the great cast is as good as ever and the writing supports the characters and continues to find insight in the modern family.  This show isn't going anywhere.

The Middle
For a series that most comedy fans ignore, it is amazing to realize how successful this rarely discussed series is.  It should be receiving a bump from its reruns and syndication.  But this is one of the most dependable sitcoms.  It does not rely on shock value and big events, it is much more old fashioned.  There is a timeless quality to this series as it deals with timeless family issues and dynamics.  Its run might not last too many more seasons as Axel is already going to college and Sue and Brick are also getting older.  But I wouldn't mind if this stuck around longer, it is a dependable show for ABC to stick with.

Last Man Standing
Yes, Tim Allen's new sitcom will be going into a fourth season.  I completely forgot that this existed until I did a review of every sitcom premiere last season.  What I found was that this show was actually decently serviceable.  It is definitely a B-grade Home Improvement, but it is the type of show that you would watch in the early 2000's just because it was on.  ABC is keeping this on Fridays, which is a tough night to find success on.  This old fashioned multi-cam show seems to be a good anchor for a night with struggling ratings.  Better for the network to keep it familiar than take a chance on a more expensive show.

The Goldbergs
This was the only one of ABC's five new shows to be picked up for a second season.  The strong ratings really surprised me as I thought the marketing was weak and I wasn't a huge fan of the show.  But a lot of people like the nostalgia and the family dynamic works for most people.  I think that there are definitely better sitcoms out there, but this has its audience and could definitely improve with a second season.  It is definitely a good fit for ABC's family themed Wednesday nights.

This show was always a mid-season filler.  It always aired after something else failed and it is surprising that it got to three seasons.  The show was never bad, but never all that great either.  The creator has new series on ABC this fall.  Wouldn't be surprised if reruns of this wound up on ABC Family.

The Neighbors
This is a rare high concept modern sitcom that was actually kind of fun.  The gimmick of aliens trying to adapt to Earth while keeping their own customs was solid enough.  The more family friendly series seemed like a good fit for Fridays, but I am sure that production costs weren't worth the poor ratings.  Nobody seemed to really like it though so no huge loss.

Trophy Wife
Out of all of the cancelations this was the one that I was the most upset with (aside from maybe Community which had plenty of second chances).  This series featured good writing and a really progressive view of blended family.  The actors all had chemistry and the characters were paired up in interesting ways.  The cast was uniformly excellent with Malin Akerman, Bradley Whitford, Michaela Watkins and the intimidating Marcia Gay Harden giving some of the best comedy performances this season.  The three kids were also great, which is not always the case.  This is a show that really deserved a second season and with its similarities to Modern Family I am not sure why it did not click with viewers or critics.

After this, Happy Endings and Don't Trust the B ABC does not seem like the place for sitcoms targeted at twenties-thirties.  I did not get a chance to see the show, but I never heard much about it either.  The premise seemed very limited and it seemed to be a rare sitcom with ongoing story lines.  Was probably mid-season for a reason.

Super Fun Night
Rebel Wilson was a great star for ABC to get.  With her success in Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect she really could have tapped into an important audience.  However the show just did not work.  It wasn't funny and did not serve the star you wanted to see.  I know that ABC reworked the show several times and there definitely felt like a lot of executive meddling.  It is a shame because this seemed to lose Wilson some important steam.  Surprised that there was not a better vehicle out there.

Back in the Game
Never saw this as a strong presence for an ongoing series.  Maggie Lawson was fine, but she wasn't the most sympathetic lead.  James Caan was a disappointment as he was too aggressive in the role.  The stand out was Ben Koldyke who is deserving of sitcom success.  The show relied on cheap stereotypes and just wasn't funny.  Surprised it lasted as long as it did.