Friday, November 24, 2017

Five PG-13 Movies with Animated Spin-Offs Aimed at Kids (It’ll be Great on TV Too, Part 3!)

                If there was ever a gray area in movies, it would be the PG-13 movie.  The PG-13 movie tries its best to appeal to all ages, while also trying to be just edgy enough (through violence, bathroom humor, sexual situations, etc.) to warrant the rating.  And then, after the movie is a success, do you know what some producers think?  This PG-13 movie would make a great animated television show, despite the fact the target audience would be “strongly cautioned” against seeing the original live-action movie!  Here are five PG-13 movies with animated television spin-offs aimed at kids.
                Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was one of Jim Carrey’s early successes.  In it, he plays a crazy pet detective who is tasked with finding the Miami Dolphin’s animal mascot.  The movie received the PG-13 rating for off-color humor and some nudity.  Ace Ventura was a huge early success, grossing over $107 million worldwide, and spawned a sequel: Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.  The other thing is spawned was an animated show appearing first on the CBS KIdshow block on Saturday mornings.  The Ace Ventura animated series featured Ace on different animal cases.  The show lasted three seasons and 39 episodes, 2 on CBS from 1995 to 1997, and later moved to Nickelodeon for one more season from 1999 to 2000.
                The Mask, another Jim Carrey vehicle, was about Carrey as a mild-mannered guy who puts on an ancient mask and becomes a zany, uninhibited cartoonish man.  Again, it was a huge success, grossing $341.6 million.  It was rated PG-13 for stylized violence.  Like Ace Ventura, the Mask made its way to CBS Kidshow, lasting 3 seasons and 54 episodes, from 1995 to 1997. 
                In 1998 a monster disaster movie called Godzilla (based on the Japanese movie monster) was released, and while not a hit with critics, nevertheless grossed $379 million worldwide.  It was rated PG-13 for sci-fi monster action/violence.  The animated television series premiered on FOX Kids and followed Godzilla, a hero this time, who imprinted on H.E.A.T. (Humanitarian Environmental Analysis Team) leader Nick.  Godzilla, Nick and his crew team up together and fight supernatural monsters.  The TV series lasted for 2 seasons and 40 episodes from 1998 to 2000.
                Men in Black was the popular ($589.4 million) 1997 Sci-fi Comedy movie about two secret agents, Agent J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) in the Men in Black organization who watch over aliens who live on earth and hide their presence from humans.  It was rated PG-13 for language and sci-fi violence.  The animated television series premiered on Kids’ WB block and followed Agent J and K fighting and watching over aliens.  The show lasted for 4 seasons and 53 episodes, from 1997 to 2001.
                The Mummy was a 1999 movie following set in the 1920s and following Rick and Evie, whose interest in Ancient Egypt causes them to accidentally unleash the supernatural Mummy from beyond the Grave.  The Mummy Returns was a 2001 sequel which followed Rick, Evie, and their 11-year-old son Alex, who again accidentally awaken the Mummy.  The Mummy Returns was rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence and The Mummy was rated PG-13 for pervasive adventure violence and partial nudity.  The Mummy animated series premiered on Kids’ WB and followed Alex, Rick and Evy as they battle the Mummy from the first two movies.  The series lasted for two seasons, but was renamed The Mummy: Secrets of the Medjai in the second season and followed Alex training to be a “Medjai.”  Altogether, the animated series lasted 2seasons and 26 episodes, from 2001 to 2003.
                The appeal of translating blockbuster movies into animated show means acknowledging that producers are trying to get children to watch television based on PG-13 movies, movies which they probably shouldn’t watch in the first place.  But the appeal of expanding an existing PG-13 property could not go unheeded, resulting in these TV shows. Here are five examples of such shows.

It'll be Great on TV Too, Part 1! Three TV Series Continuations of Movies:
It'll be Great on TV, Too, Part 2! Four Disney Animated Television Series Based On Animated Movies: http://thenovelee.blogspot.com/2015/10/itll-be-great-on-tv-too-part-2-four.html

Friday, November 17, 2017

Four Epic Miniseries that Received One or More Sequel Miniseries

The epic miniseries was a staple of television of the 1970s through the 1990s.  Telling a self-contained story through two or more episodes, the “miniseries” showcased a large cast of characters, many times through a significant historical time in history.  But the most successful miniseries were the rare ones that were given a sequel miniseries that sometimes, was just as impressive in scope and length as the first miniseries.  Here are four miniseries with a sequel miniseries. 
                Rich Man, Poor Man followed two German American brothers: a Rich Man, Rudy Jordache and his brother Tom Jordache from 1945 to 1965.  After being raised in poorer struggling life, Rudy becomes a successful entrepreneur and politician, building a corporate empire.  Tom, who was rebellious, becomes a boxer and never quite leaves the lower income life he was born into.  Meanwhile, Anthony Falconetti, a nemesis to the brothers, intends on killing them.  The series had twelve episodes which appeared every weeknight from February 1 to March 15 in 1976.  The miniseries was enough of a critical and TV ratings success to spawn the sequel series Rich Man, Poor Man Book II.  In Book II, Tom has died and Rudy is seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate.  Meanwhile, Tom’s son Wesley has a rivalry with Rudy’s stepson Billy, and Falconetti has been released from prison and vows to destroy the Jordache family once and for all.  The second miniseries ran for twenty-one episodes between September 21, 1976, and March 8, 1977, and was not as well received as the original miniseries.
                Probably the most famous miniseries of all time, Roots, by Alex Haley based his book of the same name, followed a group of slaves from capture in Africa during colonial times through their decedents in the Civil War.  Featuring a large cast, the series most notably introduced LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte, a young slave who lived in the Gambia region in East Africa, who was captured by slave traders.  Following Kunta, who eventually stops trying to run away and marries Bell, a cook and has a daughter with her.  The daughter and her subsequent family live through early American history through the Civil War. One of the highest in the television ratings ever, the series ran for eight episodes from January 23 to January 30 in 1977.  A sequel series was made, called Roots: The Next Generations, and followed now freed former slave family through postwar era up through civil rights era of the 1960s.  The sequel miniseries ran for seven episodes from February 18 to February 24 in 1979 and is as well regarded as the original miniseries.  In 1988, a TV movie was made, set in 1775, with LeVar Burton reprising his role and Kunta.  Made from another of Alex Haley’s works, Alex Haley’s Queen is a sort-of sequel that was made in 1993 and follows the lives of biracial children from shortly before the Civil War through the early 20th century and ran for three episodes from February 14 to February 18 in 1993.
                The miniseries North and South followed two men’s friendship through Military Academy in the era before the Civil War.  Orry Main’s (Patrick Swayze) father was a rural planter who owned slaves in South Carolina, while George Hazard’s (James Read) family received their wealth through manufacturing in Pennsylvania.  The story begins in 1841 and continues through to 1861, the start of the Civil War, as the men grow apart.  North and South: Book I had six episodes and aired from November 3 to November 10, 1985.  North and South: Book II: Love and War followed Orry and George through the Civil War and their eventual reconciliation from 1861 to 1865, and aired from May 5 to May 12 in 1986.  Both were huge critical hits and scored high in the television ratings.  In 1994, Heaven and Hell: North and South Book III aired and followed Orry as he dealt with his friend’s death and the aftermath of the war.  Book III had three episodes from February 28 to March 3, 1994, and was not a hit critically or in the ratings as the first two miniseries.
                Lonesome Dove was a Western miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry that followed two former Texas Rangers, Gus (Robert Duvall) and Call (Tommy Lee Jones) who spearheaded a cattle drive to Montana along with other residents of the small Texas town they lived in.  The show followed them from their tiny town to their eventual stop in Montana.  The series had four parts, which aired from February 5 to February 8, 1989.  From there, things get interesting: Return to Lonesome Dove follows Call after the death of Gus spearheading a mustang drive to Montana.  This miniseries aired for four parts from November 14 to November 17 in 1993.  Following that miniseries, there was a syndicated television series (Lonesome Dove: The Series in season 1, and Lonesome Dove: the Outlaw Years in season 2) which aired from 1994 to 1996 and follows Call’s son Newt, on his own adventures in Curtis Wells, Montana.  However, the story in Return and the Series did not have McMurtry’s involvement, and the fans of the novel series and McMurty do not consider them canonical.  Larry McMurtry subsequently collaborated to make adaptations of his other novels in the Lonesome Dove series.  Larry McMurtry's Streets of Loredo was adapted in 1995, with three parts airing from November 12 – November 15, 1995, and focused on Call, now a bounty hunter, who asked to find Mexican bandit Joey Garza (it also specifically ignores the events of Return to Lonesome Dove).  Dead Man’s Walk was adapted in 1996, two parts airing on May 12 and 13, 1996, and is a prequel focused on when Gus and Call first joined the Texas Rangers.  And finally, Comanche Moon was adapted in 2008 and focused on Gus and Call during their later Texas Ranger years.  Comanche Moon aired in three parts from January 13 to January 16, 2008.  In all, there were five total miniseries set in the Lonesome Dove universe, along with a syndicated TV series.
              The original epic miniseries proved to be so popular they spawned a sequel series.  While some failed to live up to the original’s vision (such as Rich Man, Poor Man Book II), others matched their scope and storytelling (Roots: The Next Generations being a good example).  Check out these epic miniseries and their sequels.   

Friday, November 10, 2017

Will Disney Corporate Policies Hurt The Last Jedi?

On November 1, 2017, the Wall Street Journal posted an article reporting how Disney expects to keep 65% of the profit from The Last Jedi and keep it on their best theater for four weeks ([1]).  While big theater chains with multiple screens can probably handle it, the small chains with one or two screens are not happy.  Forbes followed up a day later with an analysis piece explaining why the theaters are doing it: ([2]): for all the big movie franchises, the Star Wars movies still play best in the United States 45% to 50% of the total gross of the movie, as opposed to 35% to 40% for many major movie franchises.  Disney did a similar thing for the Force Awakens; however, it was 64% and two weeks.  But doubling the weeks, especially for small movie theaters, monopolizes that particular theater from showing anything else – for an entire month.  And new for The Last Jedi, if the theater doesn’t agree to the deal, Disney will take an additional 5%. 
                And then there’s the L.A. Times series of articles (the first one is here: 
[3]) detailing how Disney has successfully lobbied (in the past) to get deals from the government which benefit them quite a bit in various ways (for example a new parking deck was built by the City of Anaheim built a New Parking Deck for $108.2 million, and leases it to Disney for $1 –that’s right, one dollar) and that Disney has spent money on political action committees which support candidates on their side of the issue.  Disney responded that the article was “biased and inaccurate” with a “political agenda.” ([4])  But then Disney decided to take action: the L.A. Times reviewer was “not” invited to the new Disney owned Thor movie.  When news of this came out, other large reviewers took notice.  A movie reviewer for The Washington Post followed that she will not attend advance screenings until Disney reverses barring the L.A. Times reviewers ([5]).  This was followed by the entire A.V. Club also telling readers they will not attend any Disney advance press screenings ([6]).  And now, the Chicago Tribune’s reviewer put out a piece detailing how four prominent critic’s associations1 co-signed a letter of protest against Disney ([7]).  Soon after, Disney recanted and dropped its ban on the L.A. Times, claiming that they had “productive discussions” with the “New Leadership” ([8]). 
                Full disclosure: Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the only movie I want to see in theaters this winter break.  No other movie even comes close.  However, corporate Disney’s actions trouble me.  Regardless of the article’s veracity, the fact that Disney chose to “punish” the L.A. times has resulted in a domino effect within the critic community.  With Disney’s actions in regard to dismissing the critic, I would also argue that the investigative journalists who published the article and the critic are in two totally different departments and have two totally different agendas.  Many critics feel that Disney barring any critic, regardless of what their paper is saying about the company, is wrong and sets a dangerous precedent, and thus wouldn’t attend the advance Press screenings until the ban is lifted.  Now that the ban is over, I’m sure Disney is hoping that this is old news by next week.  But nevertheless, if Disney had continued, the damage would be felt by all Disney films, including the Last Jedi.
                But while the critic ban on Disney press screenings may be old news by the time The Last Jedi comes out, the theater demands will not.  And The Force Awakens had a similar policy in regards to Star Wars theater profits, why are many people raising a fuss now?  Nevertheless, when Star Wars: The Last Jedi premieres, will small cities with independent theaters not show the movie?  If that is the case, Corporate Disney’s demand may hurt its bottom line and result in lower numbers.  While I love the stories that Disney and its subsidiaries make, and can’t help but be concerned about the actions Disney corporate has been taking recently.  It does not give me a good feeling. 


Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Love and Heartbreak Story told by Weird Al songs

Today’s post is different from my usual fare.  I’ve wanted for some time to compile all of Weird Al’s love and breakup songs into one playlist.  But recently I had the idea: what if all of them told the story of one man, named Al who experienced the worst relationship ever?  Well, read below A Love and Heartbreak story told by “Weird Al” Yankovic songs:

Songwriter Al was moseying through his lonely existence when on a Tuesday morning bus ride he spies Bridget and is immediately enamored.  Al imagines an entire life together with her on the “Jackson Park Express.”  She gets off the bus, and Al is sure he would never see her again and only writes the song in memory of her.  But the following Tuesday morning, he does see her again!  Sure he won’t miss another chance to see her again, he begins stalking her without speaking to her, worrying to himself, “Do I Creep You Out?”  Finally, Bridget has had enough and demands to know why he’s following her and doing all that crazy stuff to her.  Al responds by writing a song which uses EVERY SINGLE LAME PICK-UP LINE ever invented (“Wanna B Ur Lovr”).  While Bridget is slightly put off by his behavior, she is touched by his sweetness and agrees to date him.
                After dating a while, Al pens an ode to their relationship, the slightly insulting “If That Isn’t Love,” forgiving his girlfriend for the annoying things that she does to him (and he does to her).  But after a while, the annoying things that Bridget does finally get to him, and he writes “I’m So Sick of You,” but after determining the song to be too mean, saves it on his computer and writes the only slightly nicer “Confessions Part III.”  However, Bridget still finds Al’s “confessions” hurtful and wonders if he wrote any other songs about her (Al also has to reassure him that it was only Usher who cheated on his girlfriend and had a kid with that woman, not Al himself).  After Bridget finds “I’m So Sick of You,” she becomes enraged, and then devious, deciding to get back at Al increasingly violent ways, causing him to think and wonder, “You Don’t Love Me Anymore.”  Then she does the worst thing of all: she breaks up with him and tells him she found someone else.
                Despondent, Al writes “One More Minute,” detailing how anything would be worse than another minute with Bridget.  But then he really starts to miss Bridget, writing that “Since You’ve Been Gone,” any number of horrible situations is better than not being with her – but even so, it wasn’t as bad as when Bridget was still there.  Al finally puts his violent, annoying ex-girlfriend Bridget behind him, and swears off love, thinking he could never find someone right for him.
                That is, until the very next day when he takes a flight to New Jersey and sees the flight attendant Amy and immediately writes “Airline Amy” in honor of her…

                I hope you enjoyed my little story!  Special thanks to “Weird Al” Yankovic, without which this story wouldn’t have been possible.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Three TV Shows Which Started with three or More TV movies

                Today, the major networks have done away for the most part with Television movies.  However, when TV movies were more popular, it’s very possible that a television movie preceded the actual beginning of the TV series.  In some cases, however, a total of three or more TV movies aired before the series even started.  Here are three TV shows that had three or more TV movies before TV show even started.
                Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was a syndicated TV series that ran for six seasons from 1995 to 1999.  Starring Kevin Sorbo as Hercules, the tongue-in-cheek action comedy series never took itself too seriously.  While the series itself still tend to be fairly popular, the preceding five television movies are not as well known (and harder to find).  In 1994, Universal Studios launched a two hour syndicated programming block called “Action Pack” and used it to show television movies and TV series under the title.  One of the first was the TV movies about Hercules.  The first premiered on April 25, 1994, and was called Hercules and the Amazon Women.  The plot: Hercules and his friend Iolaus discover that the “mysterious creatures” that they are trying to defeat are actually women who have left their men and instead have joined the Greek god Hera.  The second premiered on May 2, 1994, and was called Hercules and the Lost Kingdom.  In this story, Hercules agrees to help a young woman travel to Troy, where he becomes involved in a refugee attempt to take back the city from Hera’s blue priests.  The third called Hercules and the Circle of Fire, premiered on October 31, 1994.  This one was about Hercules and Deianeria traveling the world looking for fire, as the world freezes to death.  The fourth, called Hercules in the Underworld, premiered on November 7, 1994, and detailed Hercules more dangerous journey yet: he must travel to the Underworld and Hades to rescue some villagers who have fallen through a crack into said underworld.  Finally, on November 14, 1994, Hercules had his last television movie, called Hercules and the Maze of the Minotaur: Hercules has settled down with his family, but is called to action to rid of a Minotaur that is terrorizing the village (this one also featured some clips from the previous four movies).  In all, there were five television movies that preceded the Television series.
                Diagnosis: Murder was a long-running CBS show (eight seasons, from 1993-2001) starring Dick Van Dyke and his son, Barry Van Dyke.  The idea of Dick Van Dyke as murder-solving Doctor Mark Sloan originally appeared as a backdoor pilot as part of the series Jake and the Fatman (in a Season 4 episode entitled “It Never Entered My Mind).  But before the idea became a television series, Dick Van Dyke appeared in a series of television movies.  The first movie, Diagnosis of Murder, premiered on January 5, 1992, and followed Dr. Sloan as he investigates the evidence when his good friend (played by Bill Bixby) is accused of murdering his boss.  The second premiered on May 1, 1992, under the title The House on Sycamore Street.  In this movie, Dr. Sloan investigates a former student of his who seemingly committed suicide by jumping from the roof of the house.  The third movie, which premiered on February 13, 1993, was called A Twist of the Knife, and featured Suzanne Pleshette, as an old girlfriend of Mark’s, who may or may not have killed a U.S. Senator.  In all, there were three television movies that preceded the television series.
                The Love Boat ran for nine seasons from 1978 to 1986 and featured the crew of the cruise ship and their passengers.  Unlike other TV series at the time, the show featured three disconnected stories, each with their own characters, as they navigated love on the high seas.  Jeraldine Saunders, a former cruise director, wrote in 1974 a “true-life” book called Love Boats, about people who found love while on a cruise ship.  That idea was turned into a series of television movies, the first of which was called The Love Boat, which premiered on September 17, 1976.  Filmed aboard the Sun Princess, and featuring a large cast, the TV movie established the concept to three or more separate stories on the same ship.  The second TV movie, called The Love Boat II, premiered on January 21, 1977, and switched to the Pacific Princess and found three of the actors who later reprised their role in the television series (Bernie Kopell, Ted Lange, and Fred Grandy, who played Dr. O’Neill, Isaac the bartender and Gopher the purser, respectively).  The third television movie called The New Love Boat premiered on May 5, 1977.  The subtitle for The New Love Boat established the three titles that were used for each episode instead of one title like most series: The Newlyweds/The Exchange/Cleo’s First Voyage.  This one featured the first appearance of Gavin MacLeod as Captain Merrill Stubing and Lauren Tewes as Cruise Director Julie McCoy.  In all, there were three television movies that preceded television series.

                Over time, the TV movies which established these TV show have faded from prominence.  While they might be known to hard-core fans, for the casual viewer, these television movies are unknown.  Check out these TV movies which started these famous TV series.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

TV Shows that Continued without the Main Star, Part 5

                Welcome to the fifth and final installment about television shows that kept going, despite losing the main star.  Today there are two examples of the main star that left after the very first season, plus one example of the actress who played the title character who left at the beginning of the last season. 
                Today, Bill Cosby is in the news for numerous sexual assault allegations.  But in the 1980s and 1990s, he was known as the wholesome father on The Cosby Show, which he also created.  Lisa Bonet played Denise Huxtable, the second oldest teenage child on the show, for the first three seasons and was one of the most popular characters on the show.  By the end of the show’s third season, in 1987, Lisa Bonet made the decision to star in Angel Hart, a controversial R-rated movie and then posed nude for two magazines.  While Cosby publically supported Lisa Bonet at the time, he was also concerned about how the younger audience would react.  Cosby was also developing a TV show about a white woman (at the time, Meg Ryan) who attended a historically black college that had recently integrated white students.  When Ryan dropped out, Marisa Tomei was cast as the white woman and her role was made supporting.  Cosby then offered Bonet the main role on his series, A Different World, in order keep her character alive but have more grown-up, college-oriented stories.  She moved in with Maggie (Tomei) and Jaleesa (Dawnn Lewis). The spin-off was a ratings success in the first season, despite mixed critical reviews.  During this time, Lisa married Lenny Kravitz and became pregnant.  Cosby felt so strongly that Lisa’s character Denise should not be pregnant that he fired Bonet.  (It should be noted, that later on Cosby rehired Bonet to reprise Denise on The Cosby Show following her departure).  In addition, Tomei left the show after the first season, and thus, with Dawnn Lewis the only roommate still on the show; producers switched the format to a predominately black college and made the show more of an ensemble piece, promoting some cast members from recurring roles to main cast, and hiring new actors to the main cast as well.  A Different World was on a total of six seasons, five without its main star.
                Babylon 5 was created by Michael J. Straczynski, about a five-mile-long space station named Babylon 5, in which was created by the Earth Alliance and houses Alien ambassadors and humans in charge of the station, in addition to the many aliens and humans that live, work and pass through the station.  In the first season, Michael O’Hare played Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, the leader of Babylon 5.  He slowly becomes aware that he was the reason a major battle between the Earth and the alien Minbari, with the Minbari believing that he was the reincarnation of Valen, a great Minbari leader.  Unfortunately, during the first season, O’Hare begin having paranoid delusions, which caused erratic behavior and tension with other cast members.  O’Hare felt it would be best for him to leave the show rather than delay production.  Straczynski agreed to keep the reason a secret.  Bruce Boxleitner was cast as Commander John Sheridan who comes to lead Babylon 5 after Sinclair leaves to become a Minbari ambassador.  Michael O’Hare would return for a cameo in a season 2 episode and a two-episode story in season 3 to close his character arc.  Babylon 5 ran for a total of five seasons, four without its main star.
                Laverne and Shirley was the popular spinoff of Happy Days.  For the first seven seasons, Penny Marshall played Laverne while Cindy Williams played Shirley.  William in the eighth season became pregnant and gave a list of demands with her husband and manager Bill Hudson.  However, the producers refused and Williams was fired, leaving Penny Marshall to continue leading the show by herself.  In the show, Shirley marries Army medic Walter Meany, discovers she is pregnant and follows her husband overseas.  While Penny Marshall was asked back for a ninth season, she wanted to move the show from Los Angeles to New York City, thus producers quietly canceled the show.  Laverne and Shirley went for a total of eight seasons, one without its main star.
                While producers and cast originally have high hopes for a show, sometimes complications prevent the original idea of the show from continuing.  While Bonet and O’Hare only led the show for one season, Williams was an established presence for the first seven seasons.  Bonet and O’Hare, however, had a good relationship with the creators that their storyline was able to continue after their departure.  A Different World and Babylon 5 are two examples of shows that enjoyed a long run after the main star left, and Laverne and Shirley is an example of another show that limped toward the ending once star left towards the end of the show.

Friday, October 13, 2017

TV Shows that Continued without the Main Star, Part 4

               While all fans want their main star to continue throughout the entire show, sometimes things just don’t work out.  Thus, the producers are faced with continuing a hit show without the main stars, instead of ending the show.  Here are three more examples of television shows where the main star left.
                For six seasons, Nina Dobrev was the lead on the Vampire Dairies, a series on the CW about teen Elena Gilbert (Dobrev), who lives in a supernatural town, where she is torn between two vampire brothers, Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder), and had best friend witch Bonnie (Kat Graham).  During the sixth season, Dobrev announced she was leaving the show.  Her character, Elena was put under a spell to be in continual sleep, as long as Bonnie was awake.  Damon put her in a coffin, in order to wait for Elena to wake up again, 60 years later.  After Dobrev left, the focus of the show shifted to Stefan and Damon.  When the show was renewed for the eighth season, it was announced as the shows’ last.  Dobrev retuned in the final episode to wrap up her story arc.  The Vampire Diaries went for a total of eight seasons, two without its main star.
                Chad Michael Murray starred as Lucas Scott, one of two half-brothers who starred in the show One Tree Hill.  Lucas and his brother Nathan (James Lafferty) were half-brothers who, at the start, both wanted the same basketball position on their high school team, but slowly grew to bond together.  For the first six seasons, Murray played the lead role of Lucas.  However, contract negotiations fell apart for season seven, and Murray and costar Hilary Burton, who played his newlywed pregnant wife Payton.  Both stars left the show, with their characters riding off into the sunset with their newborn daughter, Sawyer.  The main focus of the show shifted to Nathan and his wife and family in the seventh season.  Like the Vampire Diaries, when the show was renewed for its ninth season, it was announced as the series’ final season.  Chad Michael Murray returned for a guest role in the seventh episode of the ninth season, his final appearance as the character.  One Tree Hill went for a total of nine seasons, three without its main star.
                Ron Howard, now better known as a director, was given the lead role of Richie Cunningham in Happy Days, a wholesome boy who was always trying to pick up girls.  Henry Winkler was introduced in season one as Fonzie and became the series’ breakout star in the second season.  While Ron Howard was still the billed lead, Fonzie was getting the majority of stories and focus.  At the end of the seventh season Ron Howard left Happy Days, and in the following years focused more and more on directing.  The show did not have a story at the end of the seventh season for Richie’s departure, but the beginning of the seventh season the characters were dealing with Richie and Ralph going to the U.S. Army to be stationed in Greenland.  Winkler continued to portray Fonzie for the next four seasons.  Ron Howard would return for three episodes in season eleven, including the filmed series finale (several new episodes, however, were aired after the series finale in the summer).  Happy Days went for a total of eleven seasons, four without its main star. 
                While all of the actors left for various reasons, they all had something in common: they returned during the final season to give their character a proper farewell.  The actors’ return shows that they loved their show and their fans of the show.  While the final season of any show is bittersweet, one thing that makes it better is the main star returning for one final visit, one last hurrah.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

TV Shows that Continued without the Main Star, Part 3

Many times, a show can struggle for one or two more seasons after the main star leaves.  While there are some exceptions (see Part 1 and 2 as examples), other shows just don’t have the same feel or magic as when the main star was leading the cast.  Here are some examples of TV shows canceled after only one or two seasons after the main star left.
                Topher Grace starred as Eric Forman on That 70’s show, as the awkward but lovable main character who along with his friends and girlfriend, grew up in the late 1970s.  However, at the end of season seven, Topher Grace decided to move on from the show.  His character, Eric Forman, decided to take a year-long teaching position in Africa.  At the end of the seventh season, Charlie, played by Brett Harrison, was brought in to take Eric’s place, but then Harrison was offered a role in the TV series Looper and Charlie was killed off in the opening episode.  Thus, Josh Meyers was brought in to play Randy Pearson, an employee at a record store who dates Eric’s ex-girlfriend.  In January of the eighth season, it was announced as the series’ last season.  Topher Grace returned for a cameo in the series finale.  That 70’s Show went for eight total seasons, one without its main star.
                Richard Dean Anderson, for the first seven seasons of Stargate SG-1, played the leader of the SG-1 team, Jack O’Neill.  In the eighth season, Don S. Davis, who played Major Garland Biggs, retired from acting due to ailing health and Anderson’s character was promoted to Brigadier General.  Anderson took the role to lighten the workload so he could spend more time with his daughter.  At the end of the eighth season, Anderson decided to leave Stargate SG-1, only showing up for guest appearances.  His character was promoted to Major General and reassigned to Washington, DC.  Ben Browder was brought in as the new leader of the SG-1 team, Cameron Mitchell, who stayed in that position until the series was canceled in season 10.  The show wrapped up loose storylines with two subsequent TV movies.  Stargate went for ten total seasons, two without its main star.
                The Office, the ensemble American sitcom based on the cult UK show, featured Steve Carrell as Michael Scott, the regional manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin paper company.  At the end of the 7th season, Steve Carrell decided not to renew his contract, deciding to focus on his film career.  His character, Michael Scott, leaves with his fiancĂ©e to Colorado and says goodbye to each of the staff.  Andy Bernard, played by Ed Helms, who was introduced in the third season, stepped into the role as regional manager in the eighth season.  However, ratings slowly fell through the eighth and ninth season, leading to its cancellation.  Like That 70’s Show, Steve Carell returned for a cameo appearance in the series finale.  The Office went for a total of ten seasons, two without its main star. 
                While some shows manage to bounce back, That 70’s Show, Stargate SG-1, and The Office only continued for one or two seasons following the departure of their main stars.  While all there were ensemble series, nevertheless when the main star is no longer leading the series, sometimes some of the original magic is lost.  Viewers may tune out, saying the show has changed, leading to falling ratings which lead to the show’s cancellation.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

TV Shows that Continued without the Main Star, Part 2

               In last week’s post, the three main stars were definitely considered the anchor of the show they had starred in.  However, for many ensemble shows, which feature a cast of six or seven, finding a “main” character falls, typically, to the leader of the group.  But when the “leader” of the group leaves, the dynamic of the group changes forever, as the new leader takes over.  Here are three more examples of a show which continued after the main star left [Spoilers]:
                In 1994, ER premiered on NBC and became of their biggest hits.  The original cast included Anthony Edwards as Dr. Mark Greene, the Chief Resident and later Attending Physician of County General Hospital in Chicago.  He was often seen as mediator and leader within the hospital and was considered the main character of the ensemble for the first eight seasons.  In the eighth season, Anthony Edwards wanted to branch off into directing and decided to leave at the end of the eighth season.  Dr. Mark Green was discovered to have an operable brain tumor and died at the end of season eight.  Noah Wyle, who played John Carter since the beginning of the show, was made the main character and took the position of Attending Physician.  ER’s staying power enabled the ensemble show to undergo many cast changes, lasting a total of fifteen seasons; ending seven seasons after Anthony Edwards left ER.
                C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation premiered in 2001 and became a huge hit for CBS like ER was for NBC.  William Petersen played the main character for C.S.I., Gil Grissom, a CSI Level III Supervisor, the leader of a Crime Scene Investigation group in Las Vegas.  He played the lead role in the ensemble for the first eight seasons of C.S.I.  In the tenth episode of the ninth season, Peterson left the series to pursue more stage acting opportunities, while his character put off his retirement until a serial killer was brought to justice, but once that was done; he made his goodbyes to all the main characters.  Once he left, Lawrence Fishburne became Raymond Langston, the new lead character at the CSI.  Like ER, CSI’s popularity enabled it to survive Petersen’s departure.  C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation lasted a total of fifteen seasons, ending six seasons after Peterson left the show. 
                Criminal Minds premiered in 2005 on CBS, one of the many “dark crime shows” to follow in CSI’s footsteps.  In the show, Mandy Patinkin played FBI Senior Supervisory Special Agent Jason Gideon, as part of the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit).  However, at the beginning of the third season, Mandy Patinkin abruptly decided to quit Criminal Minds, leaving in the second episode of the third season in 2007.  Patinkin later stated in 2012 he left because the toll of dealing with stories of women being raped and murdered every episode proved to be too much to handle: “It was very destructive to my soul and my personality” (http://www.tvguide.com/news/mandy-patinkin-regrets-criminal-minds-1053095/).  His character Jason Gideon leaves after his girlfriend Sarah is murdered and his co-worker Aaron Hotchner is suspended, finding the emotional turmoil too much.  Patinkin was replaced by Joe Mantegna, who played David Rossi, whose character returned to the FBI after being semi-retired.  Criminal Minds is starting its thirteenth season in the Fall of 2017, ten total seasons after Patinkin left at the beginning of the third season.
                While Anthony Edwards and William Peterson had long established runs as the leader, nevertheless the show was able to survive, thanks to Noah Wyle being promoted and Lawrence Fishburne cast in both respective shows.  Mandy Patinkin left after only two full seasons and two episodes in the third season, but Joe Mantegna was able to fill in the lead role and has been there ever since.  While the leader of the ensemble is important, each of these shows weathered the cast change of the main star and went on for several more seasons, continuing to entertain fans of the show.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

TV Shows that Continued without the Main Star, Part 1

TV Shows that Continued without the Main Star, Part 1
                While many TV series have an element of ensemble element to them, at the same time, a selling point of a particular series is the main star.   NCIS and Grey’s Anatomy, two currently running shows, would feel very different without Mark Harmon or Ellen Pompeo in the main character role.  However, some series have gone on without the series main star, as producers are so convinced they have a hit show it can survive without the main character at the helm.  Here are some examples of those TV series.
                The Waltons, for the first five seasons, was a show about a family living during the depression on a property in Virginia.  John Boy, played by Richard Thomas, was the main character, who was an aspiring writer talking about his life growing up with his family (Earl Hamner, the creator of the Waltons, provided the narration in the series as an older John-Boy looking back).  While there had been stories about all the family members, it was anchored by John Boy’s presence and the older character’s narration.  In 1977, Richard Thomas chose to leave The Walton’s, for no other reason except that he felt it was time to move on.  Since the show was an ensemble, the focus shifted to stories about the parents and the other children.  Richard Thomas returned to reprise his role for a double-length episode and a regular episode following that one in the sixth season but didn’t return for the rest of the series’ run.  Eventually, in the shows’ eighth and ninth (also final) seasons, John Boy was recast with Robert Wightman playing the role of John Boy.  The Waltons had four total seasons without its main star Richard Thomas. 
                Valerie Harper, the actress best known at the time as Rhonda from Mary Tyler Moore show and the spin-off Rhonda, was given her own show in 1986, called Valerie.  In it, Valerie played a working mom with a 16-year old boy (Jason Bateman) and twin 12-year old boys (Danny Ponce and Jeremy Licht).  The show had a 10 episode first season and a regular 22 episode second season.  At the end of the second season, the show had become a hit, and Harper and her producer husband Tony Cacciotti, demanded more pay for the show, but the network refused.  Harper and her husband walked out, just as they did in the middle of Rhonda.  Three episodes into filming the third season without the main star, Harper, and her husband, were fired, and the entire show was rewritten so that Harper’s character dies in the third season premiere episode.  The show’s name was changed to Valerie’s Family in the third season, with Sandy Duncan filling the motherly role.  In the show’s fourth season, the name was changed again to The Hogan Family.  The Hogan Family went for three more seasons, for a total of six seasons.   Valerie’s show had four seasons without her, albeit with different names. 
                Two and Half Men Premiered in 2003, as a starring vehicle for Charlie Sheen, as a freewheeling jingle writer Charlie Harper, who must deal with his brother (Jon Cryer) and nephew (Angus T. Jones) moving with him after his brother divorces.  At the start of the show’s eighth season, CBS and the studio produced the show, Warner Brothers, already had an agreement to renew the show for its ninth season.  Sheen almost didn’t come back for the eighth season, but after negotiating for a pay increase $1.78 million per episode, he agreed to return.  Sheen entered rehab in January 2011, the third time in 12 months, and production of the show had to be shut down with sixteen episodes filmed.  Following his rehab stint, his much-publicized erratic behavior and criticism of creator Chuck Lorre cause CBS to cancel the season and ultimately to fire Sheen altogether.  Aston Kutcher was brought in the main character role as billionaire Walden Schmidt who buys Charlie’s house after Charlie Harper dies after being hit by a subway, and lives with Charlie’s brother and nephew.  Two and a Half Men lasted another four seasons without the main star Charlie Sheen, for a total of twelve seasons.

                Each of the shows continued on without the main star, whether it be the under good circumstances, in the case of The Waltons, or not-so-great circumstances, in the case of Valerie Harper’s show and Two and a Half Men.  Each of these shows provides examples of the producers and the rest of the cast finding solutions when the main actor, and thus the main character leaves the show, and thus show that a TV series can live on without its main star.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Two Vloggers Living out Their Dream of Traveling the World

               Have you ever wanted to drop everything and see the world?  To actually wander the world and see all the things you wanted to see?  While most people have brave aspirations, but not initiative, there are some who actually did it – who actually have traveled the world, seeing and doing everything that most people only dream of doing but never actually do.  While there are probably many who we may never meet, a select few post online of their experiences for all of us to enjoy.  Here are two of them. 
                In the Chris Across the World YouTube and Instagram account, Chris solo travels across the world, experiencing the culture and the people, focusing on adventure, simplicity, and love.  A free runner and adventure enthusiast, Chris started his adventure with Chris Across America in 2010, where he visited every single state and vlogged about his experiences, ultimately making a compilation video of him in doing flips and tricks in every state.  A huge lover of Asian culture, Chris also filmed Chris Across Hong Kong A to Z, where he visited 26 alphabetical places/things that represented Hong Kong.  Then Chris went on what was arguably his most daring adventure yet – a trip across South America.  Chris again set out to film himself free running and flipping in every single country and experiencing the culture and people there.  His short but awesome South America vlogs fully capture the adventurous spirit inside Chris on his journey.  Recently, Chris returned to a place very dear to him, Japan, and went on various odd jobs and adventures, but he couldn’t be in one place for very long.  Chris decided to start filming Chris Across Asia.  In his most recent video, Prelude, Chris talks about how he is so excited about his latest adventure because he loves Asian culture.  His current location, South Korea, can be seen on his Instagram, where he posts incredibly gorgeous pictures of the landscape and significant landmarks.
                The Bucket List Family is exactly that, a family that travels and experiences the entire world, experiencing the culture, animals, and people in the country they are visiting.  They focus on adventure, culture, and service.  In 2015, Garret and Jessica Gee were a young family, with a toddler named Dorothy and a baby named Manilla, living in an apartment in Provo, Utah.  Along with his two college classmates, Garrett developed an app called Scan, which was sold to Snapchat for $50 million.  Being financially secure enabled Garrett and Jessica to think about what they wanted to do in the future, but the idea of settling down in a house did not appeal to them. They invested the money from the sale instead of using it.  Then, they decided to sell everything they owned at the time, and using the money from that to go on an adventure around the world for four months, and set up a YouTube channel just to show family and friends.  The first videos feature Garrett and Jessica talking about the adventure they are planning on doing and selling everything.  Their weekly vlogs feature Garrett, Jessica, and the kids talking about where they visited that week.  After recording a couples retreat in Rangiroa and Bora Bora, their family journey around the world began in Hawaii and proceeded through New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore.  After four months traveling, Garret and Jessica made the huge decision to continue to travel full time, staying self-sustaining by  partnering with brands, resorts and other companies to stay or be paid using their service or staying on their property in exchange for them posting about it on social media, creating a win/win scenario.  Recently, the Gees have made their way through Europe, visiting Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and the Netherlands.  Currently, the Bucket List Family are at Disney World, finishing up Disney’s challenge to stay in all the different resorts over 30 days. 
                Whether solo traveling or with a family, these people are living the dream of seeing and doing all the things that they always wanted to do.  Check out these awesome vloggers who are traveling the world.  

Chris Across the World:
The Bucket List Family:

Friday, September 8, 2017

Four Movies Which Began At or Near the End [Spoilers..?]

               Linear storytelling conventions say that a story must begin at the beginning and proceed to the end.  However, there are some movies which deliberately start at the end to ask the audience the question: “How did we get here?”  Here are several movies which give the audience a quick glimpse of the end before starting the regular narrative.
                Memento is probably the first and most famous of these movies which start at the end.  In Memento, during the opening credits, a Polaroid picture starts developing into a dead man lying on the ground around his blood.  Then the movie tracks a few minutes backward, to Leonard, the main character, convincing another character, Teddy into an abandoned warehouse to kill him.  We soon find out that Leonard has anterograde amnesia, and can’t store any recent memories, so he writes down important information on himself through tattoos and on Polaroid pictures with notes on them while trying to find his wife’s killer.  From there, the movie switches between several short segments which go back in time to reveal how and why Leonard came to kill Teddy, to a linear story which Leonard tells to someone on the phone.  Memento was released on September 5, 2000, at the Venice Film Festival, and later on March 16, 2001, in the United States.
                Sunset Boulevard also famously begins at the end.  The first shot is of the main character’s body floating in the swimming pool outside a Sunset Boulevard mansion.  Then the story proper begins: the main character is a down-on-his-luck screenwriter named Joe Gillis, who is rudely critiqued in front of a studio producer by a script reader.  After he leaves, Gillis must escape men who want to repossess his car.  That’s when he turns into a seemingly deserted mansion, which actually belongs to former silent film star Norma Desmond, and from there the two people form an uneasy partnership as Gills tries to write her comeback piece.  Sunset Boulevard was released August 10, 1950.
                (500) Days of Summer also has a nonlinear narrative, jumping back and forth in time, with a “day ticker” to show the audience where they are in the story.  The movie begins on Day 488, with the main character, Tom, holding hands with Summer on a bench.  Summer is seen wearing a ring, and they both smile at each other.  Then the narrator gives a quick intro about Tom and Summer, ending with, “While this is a story of boy meets girl, this is not a love story.”  While not presently linearly, the movie details the complicated romantic relationship of Tom and Summer.  (500) Days of Summer was released on January 17, 2009, at the Sundance Film Festival, and on August 7, 2009, in the United States.
                Pan’s Labyrinth, a dark fantasy movie directed by Guillermo Del Toro, starts with a disturbing shot of an eleven-year-old girl dying and struggling for breath with blood on her face.  The story then flashbacks and introduces the story of the girl, Ofelia, who is the stepdaughter of Captain Vidal, a Spanish Officer, and her mother is pregnant with her stepbrother.  When Ofelia and her mother travel to meet Vidal in his mansion, a fairy finds Ofelia and leads her into the Labyrinth, where she meets a fawn who thinks she is the reincarnated Princess Moanna and must complete three tasks to achieve immortality.  Meanwhile, Vidal begins to show his true violent nature to the people around him.  Pan’s Labyrinth was released May 27, 2006, at the Cannes Film Festival and later on October 11 in Spain and October 19 in Mexico. 
                Whether presented in a non-linear fashion, like Memento or (500) Days of Summer, or more straightforward, like Sunset Boulevard and Pan’s Labyrinth, which are told in flashback, these movies all begin at or near the end.  They use the opening shot of the ending to get the audience asking, “How Did We Get Here?” and the audience keeps watching, waiting for the eventual tragic ending.  

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Even More In-Depth Movie Analysis from YouTube

                Ever wonder what makes a movie work, both in message and production?  Do you wonder how the themes play out in the film or just about the production of movies itself?  In this blog post, two YouTube channels will be covered, and one particular series on a YouTube will be discussed. 
                The Now You See It YouTube channel follows in the footsteps of Every Frame a Painting, in providing discussion on particular aspects of movie analysis in terms of the themes and storytelling methods.  Some of the subjects include: The Beauty of the Dinner Scene, How Film Scores Play with Our Brains, Settings are Characters Too, Dolly Zoom: More Than a Cheap Trick, the most recent being How to Do a Plot Twist.  Like Every Frame a Painting, the male YouTuber, Jack Nugent, of Now You See It never shows his face, but rather gives a voice over while clips from the movie he’s profiling are playing.  Unlike Every Frame a Painting, Now You See It also has a series of Supercut videos, where a particular aspect of movies is cut together in a montage set to music.  On this YouTube channel, there are Supercuts on space flight in movies (One Small Step), The Hero’s Journey and Touch.  Check out Now You See It for some awesome In-Depth movie analysis. 
                Filmmaker IQ, instead of focusing on themes and storytelling methods, goes into detail of movie production and the history of film.  Filmmaker IQ started as a camera review and help site, but then made the switch to film production.  Designed as a free film school, the channel was created by Dennis Hartwig and John P. Hess and hosted by John Hess.  John talks directly to the camera, cutting to stills or videos of the subject he is covering.  Some of the movie production videos include The Fundamental Elements of Film Music, The Science of Deep Focus and Hyperfocal Distance, Posing and Rendering CGI Characters, and How a Director Stages and Blocks a Scene.  Some of the film history videos include discussion of the history of Movie Title Sequences, The Hollywood Musical, the Mockbuster, and the origins of such things as the Auteur Theory and Acting and the “Method.”  Check out Filmmaker IQ for a great discussion on the production of movies and history of film. 
                Crash Course is one channel that does 9-12 minute video series on various college-level and high-school level subjects, such as Chemistry, Philosophy, and Economics.  In April 2017, Crash Course launched a new series on Film, the first part is about Film History.  In the first sixteen lessons, hosted by Craig Benzine (who has his own YouTube channel, Wheezy Waiter), various aspects of Film History were covered.  Starting with an Introduction to Film, the series went through the early days of short silent film throughout the world, and then followed as feature films began to take shape and films transitioned to sound, with an emphasis on film movements not just in the US but around the world, such as German Expressionism and Soviet Montage.  The final five lessons were about types of movies, such as Independent Film, World Cinema and Experimental and Documentary Films, plus a video on the impact home video had on the film business.  With that series over, the Film series transitioned to Film Production, hosted by Lily Gladstone, an actress who has been acting since 2012.  The first in the Film Production series premiered on August 24, 2017, about Screenplays.  Check out this series on Film History and Film Production on the Crash Course YouTube channel.
                Now You See It provides more essays about film storytelling and themes, while Filmmaker IQ and Crash Course’s film series provide discussion about film production and film history.  Check out these YouTube Channels and series about film-making and film storytelling.



Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beyond Whose Line, Part 3: Dan Patterson/Mark Leveson Improv Shows

The most famous Improvisational comedy show of the last 20 years, the US Version of Whose Line is it Anyway? originally ran from 1998 to 2004 on ABC, with unreleased previously recorded episodes premiering on ABC Family from 2005 to 2007.  The show is enjoying a revival on the CW, with a fifth season on that network (hosted by Aisha Tyler) premiering on May 29, 2017. In the previous post, various shows that the cast members hosted or were a part of were featured.  This final post will feature Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson’s non-Whose Line shows. 
Dan Patterson and his partner Mark Leveson are more well known in the UK, but to US audiences, they are the producers and creators of Whose Line is it Anyway? Whose Line the UK Show originally began as a radio show on BBC Radio 4 in 1988, with Clive Anderson as host and John Sessions and Stephen Fry as the regulars.  The show moved to Channel 4 in September 1988 with 13 episodes and lasted 10 Series (or “seasons” as they’re called in the US).  Dan Patterson and Mark Levinson have created other UK shows which use improvisation games similar to Whose Line.  Here are some of these shows.
The first and perhaps the most famous is the show Mock the Week, which airs on BBC Two.  In Mock the Week, there are two teams of panelists, each consisting of three people.  They are given a topic and must do comedic improvised answers, or challenges based on that topic.  “Points” are awarded each round and a panel is declared a winner at the end.  Mock the Week’s regular games include Wheel of News (where a wheel is spun and the panelists make jokes on that topic), If This is the Answer, What is the Question? (where the panelists are given a category to choose from, are given an answer and must come up with a comedic question), Scenes We’d Like to See (where the performers act out a short scene, similar to Scenes from a Hat on Whose Line), and Picture of the Week (where the performers respond to a picture from a news story that week).  Mock the Week premiered on June 5, 2005, with Dara O’Briain as the host, and Hugh Dennis and Frankie Boyle on one side with one guest panelist, and Rory Bremmer on the other with two guest panelists.  Dara O’Briain and Hugh Dennis are the only cast members who have appeared in every series.  Other regular panelists were Andy Parsons, Russell Howard, and Chris Addison.  Mock the Week just finished its 13th series in December of 2016. 
Fast and Loose (the American version, Trust Us with Your Life, was covered in the previous blog post), was a one series show which premiered in January 2011 and lasted eight episodes.  Fast and Loose unlike Trust Us with Your Life, did not have a celebrity guest.  Instead, like Whose Line, a rotating group of six performers with a seventh guest performer would act out improv games, sometimes with suggestions provided by the audience, sometimes from suggestions from the host.  Some of the games included were Forward/Rewind (in which a performer must go forward or backwards based on direction from the host), Interpretive Dance (a performer mimes a popular song and the other must guess what the song is without hearing said song), Sideways Scene (in which the reformers must act out a scene while lying on the floor).  Fast and Loose was hosted by Hugh Dennis and the regular performers were Greg Davis, Justin Edwards, Pippa Evans, Humphrey Kerr, Marek Larwood, Laura Solon, Wayne Brady, Jonathan Mangum (Brady and Mangum appeared in two episodes), Jess Ransom, Ruth Bratt, David Reed, and David Armand. 
Other shows Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson have created include The Brain Drain (in which a panel of 4 performers give a humorous response to a question from an audience member) and Room 101 (in which a celebrity talks about things they hate and the host consigns some of those things they hate to Room 101; like Whose Line, the show involves participation from the studio audience).  Brain Drain lasted two series in the early 1990s and Room 101 lasted 11 series from 1994 to 2005, and was revived in 2012 and is currently in its 17th series. 
The duo of Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson has created several successful UK shows, not just Whose Line is it Anyway?  Mock the Week has become an icon of British Television, while Fast and Loose became a one-series wonder similar to Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza.  Check out these UK improvisational shows similar to Whose Line is it Anyway.  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Beyond Whose Line, Part 2: Cast Member Productions

                The most famous Improvisational comedy show of the last 20 years, the US Version of Whose Line is it Anyway? originally ran from 1998 to 2004 on ABC, with unreleased previously recorded episodes premiering on ABC Family from 2005 to 2007.  The show is enjoying a revival on the CW, with a fifth season on that network (hosted by Aisha Tyler) premiering on May 29, 2017.  In the previous installment, Drew Carey produced three shows (two television and one live show) with his improvisational friends.  Today, the cast member shows are covered, which usually involve two or three performers instead of a group of eight or nine, like with Drew Carey’s shows.
                In 2005, Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood split off to form their own duo, An Evening with Colin and Brad.  Colin and Brad’s live show, unlike the television show, enables the performers to do longer bits, sometimes lasting 10 to 20 minutes long.  While some of the games are the same as whose line (like “Moving People”) there are some that are unique to the stage, such as a bit where Colin and Brad blindfold themselves to do a scene barefoot…with mousetraps all over the floor.  Colin and Brad’s different styles serve them well together, and they continue to tour to this day.  They continue to tour throughout the US and Canada in the spring, summer, and fall of 2017. 
                In 2008, Ryan Stiles reunited with his Whose Line co-star, Greg Proops to make the live show Proops and Stiles Unplanned, which was modeled after Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned, a popular improv talk show hosted by David Baddiel and Mike Skinner.  In Proops and Stiles’ show, the two sit on a couch and take a topic discussion from an audience member.  They also ask one particular audience member to come up on stage write down notes and suggestions on a whiteboard.  The show was performed at Montreal at the Comedy Festival in July 2008.
                Following the success of Stiles and Proops Unplanned, Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Jeff Davis, along with Joel Murry, formed the live show Whose Live Anyway?, joined by Bob Derkach proving music, just like he did on Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza.  Chip Esten has also appeared on Whose Live as well.  The show features many of the same games as Whose Line, with one of the unique games being an audience giving details of their personal life, and then watching the performers act the details out on the stage.  The four current performers had several dates lined up to perform in May 2017. 
                In the summer of 2012, the summer before Whose Line is it Anyway? returned to television, many of the Whose Line performers were recruited to a show called Trust Us with Your Life, which was hosted by Fred Willard.  In this show, based on the UK show Fast and Loose, a celebrity has their personal life acted out by the improvisers, which included Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops, Jonathan Mangum, and rotating players Greg Proops, Craig Cackowski, Brad Sherwood, Nicole Parker, and Josie Lawrence.  The celebrity would give a detail about their life, and the improvisers would act them out in games.  Some of the games were similar to the games on Whose Line and Improv-A-Ganza, but with different names, and somewhere unique to the show: for example, in the game Shorter and Shorter, the performers must do a scene in 60 seconds, then in 30 seconds, and so on.  The show only aired six episodes over three weeks in July 2012 before it was pulled due to low ratings, as well as the controversy surrounding Willard’s arrest due to “lewd conduct.”  The celebrities covered in the aired were Serena Williams, Kelly and Jack Osborne, Mark Cuban, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Springer, and Florence Henderson.  The remaining two, while unaired on television, were available online and featured David Hasselhoff and Jane Seymour. 

                Whether doing a live show or a Whose Line spiritual successor, the improvisers continue to show their varied, wonderful talents.  Check out these live shows, or the short-lived television show to see these talented performers again.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Beyond Whose Line, Part 1: Drew Carey Productions

                The most famous Improvisational comedy show of the last 20 years, the US Version of Whose Line is it Anyway? originally ran from 1998 to 2004 on ABC, with unreleased previously recorded episodes premiering on ABC Family from 2005 to 2007.  The show is enjoying a revival on the CW, with a fifth season on that network (hosted by Aisha Tyler), which premiered on May 29, 2017.  After Whose Line ended, Drew Carey, the host of the show, looked for ways to continue to perform with the cast members.  Here are three shows Drew Carey did with Whose Line cast members.
                While Whose Line was still on the air, Drew Carey did a live Pay-Per-View special in 2001 called Drew Carey’s Improv All-Stars for Showtime Entertainment Television.  The live show, which utilized some of the Whose Line games but also introduced new ones, as well having Drew Carey, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, Brad Sherwood, Greg Proops, Kathy Kinney, Chip Esten from Whose Line, and new performers Sean Masterson and Julie Larson, with Laura Hall providing music.  From there, Carey and the Improv All-Stars would tour occasionally, the most frequent being after Whose Line ended production in 2003.  In 2005, Drew Carey and the Improv All-Stars went on a 37 city nationwide tour, called the Green Screen Tour.  While Carey and the Improv All-Stars have not toured together for quite a while, smaller groups from the All-Stars have formed their own live shows, which continue to tour today. 
                In the fall of 2004, Drew Carey returned to television with the CW premiere of Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show.  Drew Carey got the idea from a Whose Line game called “Moving People” where two audience members would move the bodies of the performers, and Carey thought it would be funny to see the cast members without the audience members.  Like Improv All-Stars, Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show, featured more than just four players for each show.  The cast included Brad Sherwood, Colin Mochrie, Jeff Davis, Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Jonathan Mangum, Sean Masterson, Julie Larson and Kathy Kinney.  The performers would act in from a green screen and later, animators would be brought in to animate the scenes that the performers would act out.  The show also featured games not originally on the Whose Line show.  Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show premiered on October 7, 2004, before it was removed for poor rating with only five episodes aired, and the show was ultimately cancelled.  Drew Carey then took the remaining seven episodes to Comedy Central, which aired in the fall of 2005, giving a total of twelve episodes of Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show.
                In 2011, Drew Carey tried again to make a Improv Show, this time called Drew Carey’s Impov-A-Ganza.  This show was most like the live tour, with some games featured on Whose Line and some featured on Improv All-Stars and the Green Screen show.  The cast included Ryan Stiles, Jeff Davis, Chip Esten, Colin Mochrie, Jonathan Mangum, Greg Proops, Kathy Kinney, Brad Sherwood, Heather Anne Campbell, Sean Masterson, and Wayne Brady.  It was recorded at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Bob Derkach provided the music.  The show premiered on April 11, 2011 on the Game Show Network and aired weeknights until June 3rd, totaling forty episodes.  Although all forty episodes aired, GSN declined to renew for more episodes, leaving Drew Carey’s Impov-A-Ganza with only one season to its name.
                Drew Carey’s lesser known improv shows may not be as well known as Whose Line is It Anyway?, but still provide as many laughs as the classic show.  Check out these Whose Line-related Drew Carey television productions.Who 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Infernal Affairs and The Departed [Spoilers]

WARNING: This post spoils both Infernal Affairs and the Departed.  You have been warned!
                The Departed’s premise looks on paper to be the craziest of ideas: a mole for a gang infiltrates the police force, while the police force also places a mole inside the gang.  However, in the hands of a master director, Martin Scorsese, and an all-star cast, Leonardo DeCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Martin Sheen, the movie won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The excellent movie The Departed (2006) was, in turn, a remake of a Hong Kong movie, whose English Title is Infernal Affairs (2002).  This post will highlight the differences and similarities between the two movies, in terms of plot and overall message. 
                One of the biggest differences is at the very beginning: In the beginning of the Departed, a young Colin Sullivan (the future mole for a Boston Irish Mob gang) is taken under the wing of crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who gives him special attention.  On the other hand, in Infernal Affairs, young Lau Kin-Ming is part of an initiation ceremony where several gang members pledge to become the gang boss Hon Sam’s eyes and ears inside the police force.  In the Departed, he was paid special attention, but in Infernal Affairs, he was one of many.  Another early scene difference: in The Departed, Billy Costigan is recruited, following his graduation by the police academy, by Captain Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) to go undercover based on his family background in organized crime, and go to jail for a short time on a fake assault charge.  In Infernal Affairs, no such scene exists, instead, in a montage of scenes in the police academy, Chen Wing-yan, is at first impressed by Superintendant Wong Chi-shing, but then is “kicked out” and goes to a life of petty crime, which attracts the attention of crime boss Hon Sam, and his background is revealed later.  In The Departed, the scene fills in much of the exposition, while in Internal Affairs, the viewers have to fill in the details themselves. 
                In an early scene in both movies, the police find out about an illegal black market trade and both times, the mole inside the police tips them off, so that the crime boss gets away without a charge on his back.  Both times, this tips off the higher ups that there is a mole in the other’s organization.  One major change in Internal Affairs is that the entire gang is brought to the police station and both Hon and Wong allege that they know the other has a mole inside their organization and they will find them.  No such confrontational scene exists in The Departed.  Probably the scene, while tense, was considered too unbelievable to be put in the movie.  Another scene in Internal Affairs but not in The Departed occurs directly after the montage at the Academy: Lau enters and tries to buy audio equipment from Chen, who runs a “hi-fi” store (this sets up Chen’s knowledge with audio equipment).
                One of the biggest differences has to do with the supporting characters: In The Departed, Colin Sullivan (Damon) romances psychiatrist Madolyn Madden, who is assigned to be Billy Costigan's psychiatrist after his release from prison (DeCaprio).  Sullivan eventually moves in with Madolyn.  Madolyn has a confrontational relationship with Billy while his psychiatrist, but after she tells him she no longer wants to be his psychiatrist, she starts meeting Billy in secret, eventually having an affair with him late in the movie.  Later on, Madolyn reveals to Billy that she is pregnant.  In Infernal Affairs, Lau, the mole inside the police force, meets and moves in with his girlfriend Mary, a writer.  Chen, the mole in the gang, on the other hand, meets with a psychiatrist named Dr. Lee Sum-yee and flirts with her, but she has no connections to anyone else in the movie.  Chen also randomly meets ex-girlfriend May midway through the film with her daughter, and May lies about her daughter’s age because he doesn’t want Chen to know the daughter is his.  In both versions, both Madolyn in the Departed and Mary in Infernal Affairs find out their boyfriend is a mole from a recording sent by the mole inside the gang.  In Infernal Affairs, Mary leaves him after finding out.  However, in the Departed, Madolyn attends Billy’s funeral and refuses to speak with Colin.  The twist that Madolyn is romancing both moles in the Departed gives much more drama to both relationships.  However, the interactions in Infernal Affairs are much more realistic and believable, with no connections in their romantic lives.  While it didn’t change the plot very much, a supporting character not in Infernal Affairs is Staff Sergeant Dean Dignam, who is very confrontational and is quick to anger.  He hates Colin Sullivan, the mole in the police force and makes his feelings well-known throughout the movie.  He also gets into a fight with Billy, the mole in the gang, when during a meeting with him and Captain Queenan for information about the gang. 
                The final act of The Departed follows the actions of Infernal Affairs to the letter, from the police chief caught and thrown off a building, to another bust in which this time with the mole inside the police force pulling the strings to the crime boss will fail, to the mole in the gang being brought in, the mole in the gang finding out who the mole in the police force is, the former mole in the gang trying to arrest the mole in the police force, but the former mole is shot by another officer who used to be a mole in the police force.  The mole in the police force shoots the other officer so no one knows his true identity.  There is a funeral for the mole in the gang, giving him full honors. 
However, there are numerous subtle differences during the climax between the two movies, and a big one at the ending.  For example, in The Departed, Colin Sullivan, the mole inside the police force, finds out that the crime boss Frank Costello might be an informant to the FBI.  Costello escapes during the bust gone wrong and is confronted, alone, by Sullivan, and Costello admits he was an FBI informant (which could expose Sullivan’s role in the police force).  Costello aims his gun to shoot Sullivan but Sullivan volleys multiple shots at Costello.  In Infernal Affairs, no type of FBI connection is brought up.  Lau, the mole in the police force, also confronts Hon alone after the bust goes bad, but this time instead of confronting Hon about his secret connections, kills Hon, unarmed, to sever his connection with his old life completely.  At the very end, in The Departed, after getting away scot-free from his crimes, Colin Sullivan enters his apartment and is shot dead by Dignam, who had prepared to get away clean.  The last shot is of a rat crawling along the outside of Colin’s apartment.  However, Infernal Affairs ends at the funeral, where Lau gets away scot-free.  He salutes Chen and wishes he would have taken a different route in life.  The endings in the two movies emphasize different things: In The Departed, there was no way for Colin to miss his comeuppance.  Even though he killed all of the people who would have reported him, in the end, he was done in by another officer who hated him, Dignam.  The rat symbolized Sullivan’s life as a “rat” for the gang, not a true police officer by any measure.  In Infernal Affairs, Lau gets a personal victory, he is seen a respected police officer and gets away with crimes as a informer to the gang and a murderer, but at the expense of his innocence and his soul.  A reference is made to a level in Hell in Buddhism called Avici, where one endures suffering incessantly, without end.  In fact, the literal English translation is “The Unceasing Path,” which refers to Avici.  While Lau lived, he nevertheless was in his own private hell of Avici, dealing with the choices he made to keep his position as respected police officer.
Both movies excel with two aspects: the destruction of the soul of Colin and Lau, the mole inside the police force, and the eventual breakdown and moral clarity of Chen and Billy, the mole in the gang. Both the Departed and Infernal Affairs’ basic plot are the same, but the differences show how each film was tailored each countries’ audience, such as the Hong Kong ending where Lau lives but suffers through his own private hell, or the American ending where Sullivan gets his comeuppance for his actions as a rat no matter how hard he tries to tie up all the loose ends.  The Departed and Infernal Affairs are both excellent movies which depict the costs of living double lives, with different ways and different emphasis on telling their stories.  

Summer 2017 Schedule: Beyond Whose Line Summer!

Just like last year, blogs are back to once a month for the summer.  Also like last summer, there will be a series.  This series will be all the improvisational shows that hosts/cast members/creators have done beyond Whose Line is it Anyway?  The schedule is as follows:

June: Beyond Whose Line, Part 1: Drew Carey Productions
July: Beyond Whose Line, Part 2: Cast Member Productions
August: Beyond Whose Line, Part 3: Dan Patterson/Mark Levinson Productions

Stay tuned tonight for a special double length post highlighting the plot differences between The Departed and the original Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs!  


Friday, May 19, 2017

Arrival and Rumination on [Spoiler Spoiler]

             WARNING: This blog post spoils the 2016 movie Arrival.  You have been warned!

Actual title: Arrival and Rumination on Time Travel.
                What would you do if you knew the future, both good and bad?  Would you have a choice to change it, or are you set for that future regardless?  That is one of the questions posed by Arrival.  In Arrival, Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, a master linguist who at the start is teaching at a university, is sent to communicate with aliens who have arrived in large round ships that float in the air.  As Louise begins to decode the language, she begins having visions or flashes of her future, mainly of her time with her daughter.  She also figures out that the aliens experience not linearly, but cylindrically, being able to see time both in the present and in the future.  Thus, her understanding of the language enables her to see her to eventually her life in front of her: she will marry Ian Donnelly (a physicist also asked to communicate with the aliens), they will have a daughter together, and then the daughter will die of an incurable disease at an early age.  Louise, knowing both the happiness and tragedy before her, still decides to have her daughter Hannah. 
                Judging by Arrival’s outlook, Louise may have chosen her future, despite the knowledge.  She knows will have her daughter, and her daughter will die.  As she says to Ian after they leave the aliens for the last time, “What would you do if you could see your entire life from start to finish?  Would you change things?”  To which Ian replies, “Maybe I’d say what I felt more often?  I-I don’t know.”  All the major events in Louise would still happen, but the thing that changed would be Louise’s knowledge of it.  Louise is going to live her life with her daughter, knowing she will eventually die.  She knows that Ian will leave her when she tells him she knows about her daughter’s fate.  And she does it anyway, experiencing the life she chose to live, despite the heartache to come. 
                Or does she?  It could be argued that Louise had experienced what TV Tropes calls a “Stable Time Loop.”  In a Stable Time Loop, when a character goes back in time, the past does not change, but rather the character caused the past to happen as it did, which in turn causes said character to decide to go back in time….  For an example of this, Louise calls the Chinese General Shang just as the Shang is about to fire on the alien ship.  Meanwhile, in a vision of the future, General Shang goes to Louise at her book release event and tells her the exact thing (his wife’s dying words) that she said that stopped him from attacking the ships during the attack.  Then back in the present Louise tells Shang that exact thing and it convinces him to stand down.  Now, here in lies the dilemma: Louise could not have known what to say to Shang without Shang telling her.  The only way Shang knew to tell Louise was that she already told him in the past.  Louise in her vision from the future acted in the present, which caused that exact future. 
                The scene with Louise and Shang informs the audience of Louise’s fate: not only will she not avoid her fate with her daughter, but she also caused it to happen, which in turn gives her vision in the present of the happiness and pain to come.  In this way, Louise doesn’t have a choice, she is doomed to her life, regardless of whether she wants to or not.  There is only the unending, circular loop of time.  After all, the aliens perceive time and even write cylindrically, looping around instead of in a straight line.   Arrival may make you think that Louise has a choice, but there is no escaping the Stable Time Loop, and thus no escaping her fate with her husband and her daughter.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Celebrity Web Talk Shows

                Getting a talk show off the ground is no easy feat (look no further than the many celebrities who have tried and failed to start their own talk shows to follow the likes of Ellen Degeneres and Steve Harvey).  However, some celebrities have been able to create their own talk shows on the internet, usually with an interesting concept.   In addition, it’s a way for talk show hosts to continue with the format after their cable or network show ends.  Here are some celebrity talk shows made exclusively for the internet.
                Jerry Seinfeld created one of the most well-known sitcoms of the 1990s, Seinfeld.  In 2012, he created and starred in his own talk show creation, called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  In 2002 he made a DVD extra with him talking with Colin Quinn for the documentary Comedian.  Then he bought a VW Beetle and recorded himself driving it back with his friend Barry Marder.  Seinfeld was inspired by the experiences to create a show where Seinfeld introduces the guest to a vintage car and they both go to a coffee shop or a restaurant and have coffee, and along the way have free-flowing spontaneous conversations.  The show premiered on July 12, 2012, on the website Crackle with the first guest being Larry David (creator of Seinfeld), and the first car being a 1952 Volkswagen Beetle.  Each episode lasts anywhere between 12 to 20 minutes.  Seinfeld has nine seasons of the show, most seasons lasting about six episodes, and a total of 59 episodes have been released so far.  In January 2017, the announcement was made that Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee would be moving to Netflix after the ninth season ended on Crackle.  
                Zach Galifianakis was tapped to host Between Two Ferns on the Funny or Die website.  Between Two Ferns is a deliberate parody of the talk show concept, with the guest sitting on a bare stage between two potted ferns as if the show was on a public access network, with on-screen graphics containing errors on purpose.  Unlike the pleasant aspect of most celebrity talk shows, Zach conducts the interviews with an antagonistic attitude toward the celebrity with harsh or uncomfortable questions.  Galifianakis will also awkwardly interrupt the interview for sponsor plugs.  While there are conflicts reports of how much of the talk show is staged (Zach claims it isn’t), nevertheless the fun of the show is watching how the guests respond to the awkward and insulting Galifianakis.  The show premiered on Funny or Die on January 8, 2008, with guest Michael Cera.  There have been 21 episodes of Between the Ferns on Funny or Die, and one television special that was aired on May 6, 2012, on Comedy Central called Between Two Fern: A Fairytale of New York and featured Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, and Richard Branson. 
                Larry King, one of the most famous talk show hosts ever, signed off of his CNN talk show Larry King Live in 2010.  But not content to rest in retirement, Larry King returned to hosting talk shows with not one but two Web talk shows.  Larry King founded the company Ora TV in 2012 with funding from America Movil, which is a business venture of Carlos Slim, a Mexican billionaire.  Larry King made Larry King Now, which features King interviewing celebrities from all walks of life.  Larry King Now premiered on November 1, 2012, with Seth McFarlane as the first guest.  Larry King Now is also distributed on Hulu and RT America (formerly Russia Today).  Larry King Now already has more than 500 episodes since 2012.  Larry King also hosts a weekly, Thursday night show called Politicking with Larry King, focusing more on political guests and political topics.  Politicking with Larry King premiered on June 13, 2013, and featured Representative Aaron Schock, Democratic Strategist Peter Fenn, POLITICO Deputy Managing Editor Rachel Smolkin, and is also available on Hulu and RT America, and has over 290 episodes since 2013.  While the format of Larry King’s web talk shows is not that different from the format of his television series, nevertheless, at 83 years old, King still shows his passion for interview fascinating people.

                Web Talk Shows enable some unique content, like Jerry Seinfeld’s show or Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns.  It also enables talk show hosts to continue to do what they love, in the case of Larry King.  Check out these celebrity talk shows.