Monday, August 28, 2006

"24" and "The Office" Win Emmys

As boring as I generally find the annual Emmy telecast to be, I can't help but feel satisfied that two of my favorite shows, "24" and "The Office," got some much-deserved Emmy-love last night. No, I didn't watch the awards show--I reserve my Ritalin for the Oscars in the spring--but I was thrilled to read this morning about the event, which wisely redeemed its inexcusable omission of "Lost" among the Best Drama nominees by awarding "24" for its most consistent season yet. Also comforting was Kiefer Sutherland's long-overdue win for playing Jack Bauer, our nation's current favorite superhero (sorry, Superman). Funny to think that this show--now one of Fox's biggest hits--was nearly cancelled after season 1. Can't wait for season 6, starting in January. (By the way, the "24" movie is scheduled to hit screens next summer; only Jack and Chloe have been confirmed to be involved at this point, meaning that they are probably bulletproof during season 6...phew!)

The rise of NBC's "The Office" is one of the more interesting stories in TV these days. It first premiered in the spring of 2005 to abysmal ratings and mediocre reviews (critics compared it to the much-honored BBC version). Nevertheless, a hit-starved NBC renewed the show, hoping to nuture it into the network's next-big-hit, having recently lost "Friends," "Frasier," and "Will & Grace." While the ratings for season 2 were never stellar, they continued to climb gradually thanks in part to a loyal following on iTunes, as well as Steve Carrell's rising star. Meanwhile, the actual quality of the show improved over the course of two seasons; Carell's Michael Scott is now less of a charicature than he started out, the main supporting players (Jim, Pam, and Dwight) have hit their stride, and even the background characters have found their voices (Angela, Kevin, Stanley, etc.). As a result, critics have gradually warmed to the show, and now NBC has another Emmy-winning comedy for its classic Thursday-night comedy block (NBC's first Best Comedy win since "Friends" won a few years back). Season 3 starts on September 21.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Snakes on a Plane" Underwhelms

First and foremost, I have not seen "Snakes on a Plane." But I'm still going to talk about it...

While I was still a little generous with my numbers, I predicted here several weeks ago that the internet phenom, "Snakes on a Plane," would not live up to the hype. Several analysts had predicted "SoaP" to come in with $30+ million over the weekend; in the end it shocked everyone by bringing in less than $14 million, and barely scraped up enough money to hit #1 for the weekend.

The movie started gaining popularity on the internet over a year ago, as internet bloggers mockingly praised the movie's working title. The hype spread, and the industry thought that the buzz meant big bucks. The movie's performance brings to mind some of the Sundance favorites that were purchased by top studios and expected to be big hits, only to fizzle once released to a wide audience ("Happy, Texas," "The Spitfire Grill"). Hype is a hard thing to gauge.

There are several theories as to why "SoaP" didn't get the attention that was predicted. I think the most obvious ones were the studios' inability to discern between internet chatters mocking the movie's cheesy premise and those that were genuinely praising it. (You can just see someone like the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy laughing while taking full responsibility for the rise and fall of "Snakes.") Hoping to please the film's target demographic (men under 25 years of age), the studio asked the film's director for some reshoots that would make the film gorier and sexier, guaranteeing it an R-rating. Ironically, the harsher rating ended up excluding the web-saavy and less-discerning teenage boys under the age of 17--the studio alienated a huge chunk of the audience it was trying so desperately to please.

"Snakes" won't be a complete bomb for its studio. Budgeted at around $30 million (modest by most big studio standards), it will likely make back its money domestically and hit it big on DVD. Yet its failure to catch on is a disappointment to a somewhat fledgling studio that is desperate to launch another franchise. Additionally, it will call into question all the hype generated on the internet surrounding upcoming movies. "Snakes" was declared to be a sure-fire hit several months before it even arrived in theaters; analysts will likely be more conservative in the early predicting of box office winners because of this film's weak performance.

Studios chiefs are now likely looking at their slate of films for next year, frantically trying to rename and retool their movies so as to avoid a "Snakes on a Plane"-type backlash. While some might see this as a step in the right direction towards producing films that are genuinely clever and thoughtful, I think it really just means that we won't get as many clever movie titles in the future. That means instead of getting inspired movie titles like "Broken Finger, Bag of Blood," we'll end up with generic junk titles like "Vertical Limit." In that regard, the failure of "Snakes on a Plane" has really hurt us all.

What are some movie titles that you think could use a little kick?