Tag Archives: Fox

Culture churn, aka TV with a very short shelf life

imgresJason Lynch recently suggested that Fox is keen to make Tuesday night a little more robust in the ratings department. There is trouble, apparently, in paradise.

The network’s double-digit declines in the new season are due in part to the anemic performance of its Tuesday night lineup: New Girl and Brooklyn have both averaged just 1.0 in the past two weeks, and Scream Queens plunged to a 0.7 in its most recent episode.

This surprised me because I’ve come to like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

And I didn’t think I would. I remember telling my friend Richard Laermer that it had no hope of succeeding.

My reasoning: that Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta character was so much less imaginative than his creations on SNL that the audience (by which I always mean me) would feel short-changed.

I was wrong. I grew to like Jake. He was sweet, funny, quite deliberately adorable. (He connects perhaps to the sweetness trend we noted recently.)

But last week, I had an awful ‘jumping the shark’ moment. Suddenly Jake went from being adorable to predictable. All of a sudden, all the “business” Samberg does (the goofy word play, the goofy scenario building, the goofy self criticism, the goofy pop culture referencing), all of it suddenly felt “done” and a little forced. Brooklyn Nine-Nine was over. For me at least. (And let me hasten to add that I am not claiming prescience here. My prediction that Brooklyn Nine-Nine would fail was wrong. And nothing about the current bad ratings vindicates me. I’m still wrong.)

This sudden shift in my opinion of Brooklyn Nine-Nine made me think about the a Pip Coburn conference I attended a couple of weeks ago. It was filled with investment people, a Rabbi, a poet or two, some journalists, and an anthropologist (me).

Over two days, things got quite remarkably philosophical. We observed how quickly successful companies can descend from profit and glory. And we contemplated the terrifying idea that maybe it is wrong to suppose that robust companies will have a long life span. Maybe, someone suggested (and it might have been Brynne Thompson), maybe we should expect even successful companies to live only a short while, less than a decade or so.

In other words, the idea went, perhaps we live in a world so turbulent, so filled with angry black swans and fleeting blue oceans, so turned upside down by commotion, disruption and creative destruction, that successful companies will only live a little longer than unsuccessful ones. The difference between the good and bad companies won’t be duration but merely (please hold the line for my salute to Ernest Hemingway) that the former “have more money.”

Now, I know what you are thinking. Unless a show is Law and Order or the unaccountably enduring Supernatural, all TV shows, even really popular ones, die young.

Yes, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine is just in it’s third season, unless I’m mistaken. That will mean it was vital and interesting for just two seasons. The fact that it was really vital and interesting (with great ratings and awards) did not protect it from its present decline.

That’s the scary idea. That Wall Street and the world of TV can no longer bank the successes they way they used because they just won’t last. Even as the ratings, reviews and awards pour in, the smart show runner will have to fire up new shows…cause this too shall pass. And soon.

Call it “cultural churn.” But we wear through things faster than we used to. And this must challenge the economics of the industry, which used to rely on the hits to pay for the failures. Now that there is not much difference in their longevity… well, something’s gotta give. It is time to rebuild the model, to rewire the industry, to redouble our creativity. How we make culture is going to have to change.

The Grinder and the perils of celebrity culture

THE GRINDER | Official Trailer | FOX BROADCASTING - YouTube 2The Grinder is a show from FOX about a TV actor (Rob Lowe as “Dean”) who leaves his hit series, a courtroom drama, to spend some time in the “slow lane.” He wants to make contact with “real life,” to break away from the insincerities of Hollywood and the falsehoods of a celebrity culture.

His plan is to help himself to the small town existence of his brother (Fred Savage as “Stewart”). The star just moves in…to Stewart’s home, his strip-mall law firm, and his life.

In effect, Dean hijacks his brother’s life. Because celebrities are our gods and they can do anything they want…within reason.  Forget reason. Really, the world belongs to them.

One of the pleasures of The Grinder is that it holds celebrity culture up for scrutiny. We see ourselves, witless with admiration. And we see what happens to the celebrities when treated to this constant flow of astonished gratitude. They turn into very handsome monsters.

The best moments in The Grinder come when the Rob Lowe character demonstrates that he really can’t tell the difference between his celebrity and the rest of his world. Much of the time he believes that he is a lawyer and that the world is his TV courtroom.

This leads to pronouncements that sound ok on TV but when uttered in the real world of a small strip-mall law firm in the middle of nowhere are just gloriously, magnificently delusional.

THE GRINDER | Official Trailer | FOX BROADCASTING - YouTube

And this calls for wonderful moments when the listeners are called upon to witness the delusion. Clearly, they are torn. Part of them wants to go along. After all, celebrities make our collective reality, why not defer to them when they presume to make our personal reality?

But reason prevails. And the listener, often Fred Savage, responds with that wonderful facial expression that says, “does he really not know how delusional that sounds?” Fred Savage is a master of this expression. So is Mary Elizabeth Ellis, his wife on the show.

I couldn’t find a perfect image to capture it. The one at the top of the post comes closest. I think this is the way you make it: turn your head a little to the side, let the smile of approval freeze into the beginning of a grimace, widen the eyes with a look of concern edging on alarm.

It’s worth getting this right. With Washington shaping up the way it is, we’re going to need it.



my fox, my Syd

Apologies for having been off air for so long.

I’ve been sprinting to complete research in London.  I am presenting the results today.

The good news: the deck is done.  The bad news: so is the presenter.  So we will see how it goes.

But I did want to share this photo.  It was taken yesterday in the late afternoon.  It shows a Fox, a Red Fox, I think, taking a nap not 60 yards from the place I am staying in Clerkenwell.

Clerkenwell turns out to be an endlessly interesting place to stay.  I recommend it for your next trip to London.  I would give you a quick account here, but I have to get back to buffing and polishing the presentation.  Or at least weeding out the typos.  Oh, for a nap in the afternoon sun!

Mrs. Pucci, say it’s not too late for us!

Human Target is a TV action adventure series on Fox.  Last season it was all very "boy’s own."  Lots of fight scenes, stunts, mayhem, intrique and things blowing up.  For all the special effects it was, I thought, very credible TV with writing, acting, and directing vastly better than the genre normally elicits.  

But finally it was too boy’s own, which is to say all that daring-do got in the way of complexity or nuance or anything resembling the way human behave when they are not action heroes.

Clearly, someone at FOX said, "very well, let’s give the USA Networks treatment."  And this means taking a page from the resoundingly successful playbook created by Bonnie Hammer and making our male heroes actually interact with and sometimes depend upon the women in their lives.  Think of the girlfriend and mother in Burn Notice. The assistant and girl friend in Royal Pains.  The FBI jailor and girlfriend in White Collar. And mother, sister, boss, male assistant and boy friend in In Plain Sight.  (There are actually two versions of the Hammer strategy.  I discuss the official one in McCracken 2009 and the unofficial one in McCracken 2010.  See the links below.)

And it came to pass that two women were added to Human Target.  One of them was the Mrs. Pucci (pictured) played by Indira Varma (er, also pictured).  What a difference Mrs. Pucci makes!  In a graceful, elegant way she dismantles the genre, scene in and scene out. Now we really have no idea what’s happening next.  And while we are trying to puzzle out the character, we are treated to a great actress treating us to lots of nuance and subtlety.  

But hang on!  Bill Gorman reported yesterday that the numbers for Human Target were abysmal.  Not much better that Under Covers which is now down for cancellation.  My suggest we treat this as a new year’s eve resolution: defend Mrs. Pucci from cancellation!


Gorman, Bill.  2010.  The Numbers of Human Target. December 23.  click here.

McCracken, Grant. 2009.  The Hammer Grammar.  This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  August 31.  Click here.

McCracken, Grant.  2010.  The secret script at USA Networks (aka the unmeshed male). This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  Feb. 5.  click here. 

Fringe aka Managing Multiplicity

If you’re fan of the show, you know Fringe (Fox, Thursdays, 9:00) can be fiendishly interesting.  

One of the pleasures of the show is the performance of Anna Torv (pictured).

Torv’s character Olivia exists in two, parallel worlds.  So Torv must play Olivia twice.  She must be the same person in both worlds, but the viewer also needs to see small, and telling, differences.

Managing two identities in this way makes the actress a little like the audience.  Many of us are called upon to manage several identities at once.  The differences can be small, but they must also be telling. 

Torv was recently asked about playing the same person twice.  You can hear in her answer some of the difficulty of the task.  But you also hear her voice some of the advantages of the postmodern self, the ability to slide across perspectives, to see oneself with new clarity.

Anna: I was so excited when it first came up, and then we’ve kicked in. I haven’t really had the chance to play the Ultimate Olivia properly for herself. It’s been our Olivia, thinking that she’s the Ultimate Olivia. Then, the Ultimate Olivia pretending to be our Olivia. It’s been a little bit tough to work that line. What has been interesting is how clearly I am now seeing Olivia, which I don’t think you get to do. You don’t get those opportunities where you actually get to step back and look at a character from a different perspective while playing her. Each of them has their own impression of the other that they haven’t met really properly.

So, it’s been tough, but fun. The differences are subtle there. They both ended up in the same job. They both ended up to the point where they even had the same partners. It’s just gentle little shifts. It’s been fun. I think all the guys that have had that chance would say the same. It’s been so fun to play on the other side, which does feel like, “Wow, this is a completely different energy.” Then, I get to pop back. I’ve loved it.

Those who have not seen Fringe might want to have a look.  Bill Gorman, at TV By The Numbers, said today the show’s in peril.   


Gorman, Bill. 2010. “Will Fringe Or Lie To Me Be Cancelled Or Renewed?.” TV By The Numbers. http://tvbythenumbers.com/2010/10/12/fox-fringe-new-season-same-bad-choice/67591 (Accessed October 13, 2010).

McCracken, Grant. 2008. Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture. Indiana University Press http://www.amazon.com/Transformations-Identity-Construction-Contemporary-Culture/dp/0253219574/.  

Radish, Christina. 2010. “Anna Torv Interview FRINGE Season Three.” Collider, October 13 http://www.collider.com/2010/10/13/anna-torv-interview-fringe-season-three/#more-54255 (Accessed October 13, 2010).

The Good Guys

The Good Guys, the new cop comedy from Fox, is showing in my Seattle hotel room as I write this.  A month ago I argued that this show has no place in contemporary culture and therefore no hope of success.  (My assumption, unless you are have made contact with culture, your chances of making contact with commerce are remote.)  I am sorry to say that The Good Guys is as predictable and uninteresting as predicted

Dan Stark (Bradley Whitford) is a big dope, cheap, fast and out of control, a walking set of appetites, politically incorrect and proud of it, inclined to play loose and fast with the rules.  Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks) plays by the book and spends a good deal of time rolling his eyes and suppressing the temptation to tell Dan Stark to join the 21st century.  Dude!  This version of the buddy pic has been with at least since 1987 and the release of Lethal Weapon with Mel Gibson as the guy who is out of control and Danny Glover his law and order loving partner. 

There are ways out of this problem.  Producers could have given the Dan Stark role to Colin Hanks.  That would have been a little counter expectational.  Better, Dan Stark could have been both cheap, fast, and out of control, and fastidious about procedure.  In the first case, the actor plays against type.  In the second, the character does. 

The old argument is that no one will bind with the show or indeed follow it unless the thing runs on the rails of established expectation.  Follow genre.  Play to type.  But these days this is the path to an early cancelation.  How is it someone at Fox failed to get the memo?  Present audiences are good enough at TV that they can watch without rails, without genre, without type.  


McCracken, Grant.  2010.  Calling all CCOs: how good is your gut?  This Blog. May 13. here.  

Calling all CCOs: how good is your gut?

Next week, Fox will launch a cop show called The Good Guys.  (It previews May 19th. The series starts June 7.)

Outwardly, things looks fine.  The producer is Matt Nix, who recently triumphed with Burn Notice. Its stars Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford, able actors to be sure. Plus Fox is good at making good TV.  

But my gut says this show is going to be a stinker.  The Hollywood Reporter description:

[The show] centers on Jack (Hanks), an ambitious, by-the-book detective whose habit of undermining himself has resulted in a dead-end position at the Los Angeles Police Department. Worse, he has been partnered with Dan (Whitford), a drunken, lecherous, wild-card cop who hangs onto his job only because of a heroic act years before.

This made the eyes roll back in my head.  At a time when Modern Family is reinventing the family comedy, Burn Notice the spy story, and New Christine the situation comedy, this doesn’t sound promising.  My first warning: I got bored in the middle of the 15 second promotion.  

Of course this is why people hate bloggers.  We don’t do due diligence.  We just make shit up.  We don’t investigate or even think very hard.  We shoot from the hip. 

But exactly!  This is precisely the time to judge the show   Before we know the details, before we have seen an episode, before any diligence is done.  When all we know is the concept, this is the best, the only real, opportunity to see whether our instincts are good for anything. (Sometimes, that is to say, bloggers do the wrong thing for the right reason.  Hasty judgment in this case is due diligence.)

It’s also a chance to go on the record.  So I’m going on the record.  I believe this show will be a stinker.  I believe it will be so bad Fox won’t run the whole of the first season.

I hope I’m wrong.  Unlike Angie Tempura (above), I am not a sneering, know-it-all, blogger.  I wish this show well.  No one likes to see this much talent, money and risk go to waste.  

Please come join me.  I would especially like to hear from those who like the sound of the concept. 

Your comments please!


Andreeva, Nellie.  2009.  Colin Hanks Revs Up for Jack and Dan.  Hollywood Reporter. November 3.  here.  (subscription fee may be required)

For more on The Good Guys, check out the Fox cite here.  But, please, form a judgment first!