Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Picks o' the Week

   The Set Dressing crew's deckers on my show a couple of years ago

It’s mid-season replacement time here in Television Land, when shows that haven't managed to attract enough viewers are replaced by others that – for whatever reason – weren’t deemed ready for the starting lineup when the season kicked off back in September. Picking winners in this business is more art than science, which is one reason so many shows stumble right out of the gate. Some recover to find an audience, but others don’t – and those are cancelled before spending too much network money, then unceremoniously dumped on the ash heap of Hollywood history. Into their time slots go the mid-season replacements, eager to come off the bench, get in the game, and show what they can do.

Okay, enough with the lame sports metaphors...

In a recent piece, Mary McNamara (one of the LA Times excellent TV critics) talks about the relationship between new (and not-so-new) shows and their audience, and the delicate balance in the weekly tug-of-war  that determines what we’re willing to accept in a story and its characters -- and exactly where the line is beyond which viewers are not willing to go.

The equation is different for each show, and as a slate of new offerings hits the airwaves, Mary urges us -- in her usual engaging, thoughtful,well-written style -- to give them a chance.  If you hate a new show, you hate it, but if there's something good about an otherwise flawed new offering, try again next week.  Like all baby animals, new shows often take a few episodes to find their rhythm and settle into a groove.  Give up too soon and you just might miss out on something good.

It's a good one -- do yourself a favor and read it.


You’d have to be living in one of Osama Bin Laden’s old hideouts in the mountains of Tora Bora not to be aware that the Sundance Film Festival is currently underway up in Park City. I don’t pay as much attention to Sundance as I used to, but given the buzz on the internet and newspapers here in LA, news of the festival is hard to avoid. One item caught my eye the other day, describing how a director, his actors, and crew managed to shoot a feature called  Escape from Tomorrow over the course of 25 days at Disneyland, undetected by the those responsible for running a tight ship at der MausHaus. Given the pit-bull ferocity with which Disney protects its squeaky-clean image, it’s astounding that Randy Moore and his crew were able to pull this off. Whether the legal storm troopers who defend the Disney Empire from any and all perceived threats will allow it to be distributed is another matter. It could well end up a cult movie doomed to travel the underground circuit, and although that would be a great shame, it cannot negate the audacity of Moore's accomplishment.

Given my own love/hate relationship with Disney*, the opening line of the LA Times article hooked me immediately:

 “About three years ago, Randy Moore, a struggling screenwriter living in Burbank, had an out-there idea: What if he took a tiny camera and, without asking permission, began shooting a narrative movie at Disney theme parks?” 

 “What if?” indeed.

A shorter piece on the paper's website includes a video clip wherein Moore and lead actor Roy Abramsohn reveal how they managed to film an entire feature right under the eyes of Mickey Mouse. Personally, I can’t wait to see this film, and hope we all get that chance.


Another take on the Sundance experience is called just that -- The Sundance Experience -- recorded for KCRW’s “The Business” and rebroadcast as part of the station’s “Unfictional” series.  The website introduces the twenty five minute podcast like this:

“In 2005, director Richard Shephard took his film “The Matador” to the Sundance Film Festival. While he'd made three indie films and directed some cable TV, his dark comedy with Pierce Brosnan as a washed up assassin and Greg Kinnear as his unwitting accomplice was his last, best hope to make it into the big time. KCRW's Matt Holzman followed Richard during that tense week, and produced a documentary for KCRW's show "The Business." With Sundance now underway in Park City, we thought we'd revisit the story and check back in with Richard Shepard to see where his career went after Sundance.”

Offering an inside look at the tensions and pressures that come with chasing the dream all the way to Sundance – and hopefully, beyond -- this is another good one.

 Those are your Picks ‘o the Week. Check ‘em out...

*  As a kid, I loved Disneyland , then came to loathe the place with a passion while doing an interminable series of commercials there in the 1990’s.  For me, the “Happiest Place on Earth” was a nightmare location for filming.  The Disney technical support people were great, but the teeming crowds there left me with a decidedly jaundiced view of humanity after a couple of days -- but  now I suckle on the great swollen teat of Disney for sustenance  making shows for Disney Channel.  To say I’m conflicted about all this is an understatement...  

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