Month: September 2009

FlashForward premiere last Thursday at long last.
I’ve been talking about it since last year and read at the time the pilot script. I liked (loved?) it, so, needless to say, I was anxiously waiting for the final result. I wanted to like this series premiere, I really, really wanted to.

And, in the end, I was very disappointed.
Perhaps I expected more from it, but the pilot script delivered, so how come the end result didn’t?
Let’s take a look at the various negative points from the broadcast version.

First, the opening. Okay, I get it, you want to hook the viewer in. But come on, where’s the originality? The opening scene was like a rehash of Lost’s. Even down to the character’s facial expressions!

But one of my biggest quarrel has got to do with the directing. I’m sorry David S. Goyer, but you don’t know how to shoot. What’s up with you zooming in on everything? Did you just discover the “zoom” function on your camcorder?
The same can be said about all the color filters (blue and orange). For a second there I thought I was on a Canadian show.
In reality, the shot of the (real opening) suburban setting, coupled with the lame transition before it (or was that the credits?) were my first clues that I was watching a Lifetime movie of the week.

Another being the scope of the disaster getting neglected altogether. It’s as if no one cares than a billion people died almost instantly! At least with Lost you could feel the mayhem following the plane crash. Here it’s just people going from one point to the next. There’s barely any interaction. Important conversations are discussed casually, and what should be intense emotions or scenes are almost done matter-of-factly.
The chilling “I dreamt there were no more good days” uttered by Charlie Benford was supposed to be a major moment hinting at the chaos ahead. Instead, you have an almost laughable (dare I say clichéd) scene.
There’s just no soul to it, and Goyer doesn’t care. He keeps on moving to the next scene. Hell, even the flash-forward, arguably the most pivotal scene, is supposed to last 2 minutes and 17 seconds, yet on the show it’s barely 50 seconds!
You don’t have time to know the characters either, they’re like zombies. The relationships all fall flat on their faces. The “I hate you” notes left by Olivia to her husband seemed more mean than anything else. You basically don’t feel for the characters. The scene where Bryce Varley is on the verge of killing himself is barely glanced at. I was expecting a better set-up than him randomly walking up to the beach, pulling a gun, and ten seconds later having his flash-forward. That wasn’t what the script called for!
In the script, actual character beats opened and closed the series premiere. The show began and closed with Mark Benford in his daily life. Instead, here we got a wannabe Lost opening and an OMG moment at the end.

Continuing on the Lost comparison, Ramin Djawadi’s music score was pretty generic. I was awaiting a Michael Giacchino-type level of orchestra; all I got were some bland notes.
The VFX were also pretty awful, not even worthy of Battlestar Galactica.

There’s even this out-of-place kangaroo echoing Lost’s polar bear.
You do realize that you don’t need an exotic animal in a random spot to do a good mystery show, right?

Overall, what worked on the page didn’t work on screen.
I don’t blame the writing though, I blame the plain directing and editing.
A two-hour premiere (and a better-suited director!) would probably have given enough time to develop both the story and the characters. Sadly, this wasn’t the case.
Better luck next time.

So, I was busy writing a blog on another subject which may or may not see the light of day later, and I come across this story, written by Deadline’s Nikki Finke, about how MGM is on the verge of bankruptcy, and has a $4 billion debt to erase. Actually the past 20 years were a bumpy ride for the firm of Leo the Lion (and his family, The Lionhearts. Yes, I did my homework again, but my curiosity knows no bounds.)

So, I’ll do the Cliff’s Notes version, but the firm with the Lion has been passing from owner to owner. First, there was the very Français Pathé Frères, and the French bank Crédit Lyonnais. During their tenure, successful movies like Thelma and Louise were made. There was also businessman Kirk Kerkorian, who owned MGM no less than three times in the span of 20 years, and finally, from 2004 onwards, Sony and several equity partners, trust funds and banks. But during those 7 years, no really successful movies were produced to speak of.

It’s no wonder that MGM has only one remaining viable franchise, and that is the 007 one. The reason why the studio can’t exploit its catalogue is simple: all the pre-1986 classic movies and cartoons like “Tom and Jerry” and the Tex Avery shorts were sold to Ted Turner and Time Warner more than 20 years ago. Sure, MGM bought off other failing studios such as Orion Pictures. But even moderate successes produced by Orion, like the first “Addams Family”, are not their property.

In short: upcoming Blu-Ray restored and remastered editions of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind”, sure to garner profit from movie lovers….won’t be saving MGM, even though it was originally produced by the studio.

So, there it is, folks: a studio with a whopping 4,000 movies in its vaults, produced in-house or by other studios, and unable to exploit them correctly.

In 2006, worldwide distribution for DVD and Blu-Ray reverted to Fox Entertainment. Did you hear about any “special editions” of forgotten movies such as “Heaven’s Gate”, the swan song of Michael Cimino? Neither did I. Oh sure, there was the “Rocky” collection, but nothing really groundbreaking.

This is what we get, for example.

Each MGM DVD of “catalogue” has the same tasteless cover art. I know of…hum, heard of adult DVDs that have better design than this.

Sure, the Stargate franchise does well on DVD. And apparently, two movies are on the way (one for SG-1, another for Atlantis), and the premiere of “Stargate Universe” will surely reboot the franchise…once again.
But then, other long-running franchises such as “The Outer Limits” second incarnation have barely been released on DVD, in their unedited, non-syndication form. Nevertheless, they are one of the better-remembered sci-fi series of the 1990s? So…what’s the hold up? Poor sales can be fixed with the right marketing. Why not start producing more TV shows again?

In the past few years, MGM has taken bizarre decisions. It’s not a studio that big, never has been since the 1980s. Under the supervision of Harry Sloan, its biggest recent move was the hiring of Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner to oversee a “reborn” United Artists. To prove his willingness, Cruise starred in the first two movies: one was “Lions for Lambs”, written by Matthew Carnahan and directed by Robert Redford. It was sure Oscar-bait, right? Wrong.

The movie tanked, and the “New York Times” estimated that UA lost $50 million over the promotion of the movie. Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie” fared better, but still underperformed. Now all development at UA seems to have stopped. Bringing over Mary Parent from Universal led to an “ambitious” slate of films, including Drew Goddard’s “Cabin in The Woods” slated for release in 2010. So yeah, the upcoming remake of “Fame” will do well, if not domestically, at least internationally. But bringing in trucks of cash for the studio? Nope!

MGM partnered with, among others, The Weinstein Co. to finance a lot of their recent movies, but it doesn’t even ear n a dime in DVD sales (Harvey and Bob do, through Genius Corp.). So, last month, they brought in turnaround specialist Steven Cooper to oversee a potential restructuring, that, from the look of things, may come sooner rather than later. Steven Cooper worked miracles for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts; will he tidy up the MGM kitchen as well? Compared to Lions Gate, which is a mini-major with Oscar-winning projects (Crash being the most famous), the Lion firm pales. Lions Gate has profitable filmmakers (African-American mogul Tyler Perry), and great cash cows in the Saw franchise, as well as a flourishing TV division, producing Weeds and Mad Men. Why can’t MGM do the same? When DreamWorks severed its ties with Paramount and John Lesher, the president of the studio, got shown the door, his replacement was ordered to put more projects in the pipeline and revive franchises. It shouldn’t be that hard for MGM to follow the same template.

But in order to achieve these things, it seems that time has run out. The goodwill of the shareholders, too.

About the Author: Lordofnoyze

Following yesterday’s post (where we saw why The X-Files still surpasses Fringe), we’ll now be discussing how the Abrams/Orci/Kurtzman show is actually getting its ideas from another source.
It seems that with this “parallel universe” story, the writers are beginning to get “inspired by” another science-fiction show, Sliders.

Yet again, I’ll be talking about Fringe up to, and including, its Second Season premiere. In addition, I’ll be making numerous references to major Sliders plotlines, so tread carefully (even though the show has been off the air for almost a decade).

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
Fringe is no more “science” than it is “fiction,” especially now that we’ve been officially introduced to parallel worlds.
In reality, it’s just a convenient way to answer everything that’s unanswerable. Unsurprisingly, a self-cutting neck is not scientifically realistic, despite what the writers want us to think. Stop wondering why someone has a bionic arm, the answer is obvious: it comes from another universe!
And if you’re still thinking that the writers know their science, just take a look at who wrote (and directed) the season premiere: Akiva Goldsman, the writer behind the 1998 movie adaptation of Lost in Space with Matt LeBland (no typo). If I recall correctly, that movie was actually a documentary about space exploration. I mean, its use of “time bubbles” was simply astonishing.

In the meantime, here’s a brief history of Sliders.
From 1995 to 1999, the series ran for five seasons, including three on FOX. Created by Tracy Tormé & Robert K. Weiss, the series dealt with a group of people that get sent to parallel dimensions. Tormé and Weiss “left” the show after several problems with the network. Ultimately, SciFi Channel took over after the series’ third season, but by then David Peckinpah, who’d been made showrunner the year prior, had already ran the show into the ground by completely abandoning the concept of alternate histories and going into a more action/adventure direction. Sliders at its core was a show about the exploration of parallel worlds (which isn’t what Fringe is about–yet), but the series shifted focus during Season Three with the introduction of the Kromaggs (more on that in a second).

Sure, as soon as the multiverse is used on a show, Sliders is always brought up, but this time though it’s with good reason as the similarities between the two are beyond eerie.
Ironically, the writers seems to take from Sliders its worst storylines.

The main one being of course the Kromaggs, a parallel version of humanoid primates, and “a technologically advanced and highly militaristic race bent on conquering all human-dominated alternate Earths.”
They also have psychic abilities, such as the power “to project illusions and plant post-hypnotic suggestions into human minds. One episode had one Kromagg attempt to force data out of someone’s minds by touch, similar to Star Trek‘s Vulcan “mind meld”.” Moreover, they also have “healing powers, whereby they can heal people with their minds.”

Okay, so now that you know what Kromaggs are, let’s take a look at the two main opposing forces in the Fringe ‘verse, symbolized by the mysterious group called Zerstörung durch Fortschritte der Technologie (“Destruction through Technological Progress” or simply ZFT).
io9 briefed us on the group’s motives:

Bioterrorist group ZFT is responsible for many of the experiments the Fringe team investigates. ZFT’s extensive network of scientists perform bizarre and often deadly experiments on other human beings — like infecting a woman with a form of vampiric syphilis or growing fast-aging humans. In addition to their biohacks, ZFT possesses some technologies developed by Walter Bishop, including a teleportation device.
But there’s also a method behind ZFT’s biological madness. ZFT members operate according to a manifesto that states two key things: there is another dimension more scientifically advanced than our own, and in the coming interdimensional war, only one dimension can survive. ZFT is out to create an army of biologically enhanced supersoldiers who will fight for our dimension in that war. But there’s also a chapter missing from ZFT’s manifesto — one that outlines ethics.

In the second season premiere of Fringe, we got introduced to this enemy from the “other side,” notably a shape-shifting soldier that is both very agile and very resistant.

So, to summarize, we have, on both shows, technologically advanced supersoldiers with powers, from a parallel universe, trying to destroy humans and other worlds.
It’s pretty much the exact same story.
Oh, and the shape-shifters also look like Kromaggs.

The similarities do not stop there.
Peter Bishop’s parallel world origins seem oddly comparable to that of another main character from Sliders, Quinn Mallory. Even though for the majority of the series we believe Mallory is from Earth Prime, it turns out that he’s not.

[Quinn Mallory is] from Kromagg Prime, an Alternate earth where humans and Kromaggs coexisted until a civil war broke out between the two species. He learned that he was transported to Earth Prime when he was a baby and left with his parents’ doubles. When his parents came back to get him, his adoptive parents were too attached to him so they hid Quinn, and Quinn was raised on Earth Prime.

Replace “Quinn Mallory” by Peter Bishop, “parents” with Walter Bishop, and “Kromaggs” by parallel world enemies, you’ve got the whole series’ arc for Peter and his enigmatic past.

Arguably, one might even say another major plotline was ripped from Sliders, its fifth season’s borefest around Mallory (also known as Quinn2 or Quinn Mallory 2.0).

In the show, two of the main characters (Quinn and Colin Mallory) were “fused” into one. During the whole season, they’re trying to find a way to unmerge the two.
Sounds familiar?
That’s because the same storyline ran for half a season on Fringe. The consciousness of John Scott gets inadvertently transferred into her former partner’s mind, Olivia Dunham. There was even an episode where Olivia’s persona was about to be lost forever. Fortunately, John finally leaves Olivia alone midway through the series’ first season.

Last but not least, we have the mysterious character of William Bell, who seems to overshadow not only ZFT but several parallel universes thanks to his Massive Dynamic conglomerate.
In the second season premiere of Sliders, we meet a mysterious character named the Sorcerer (turns out, he’s an alternate version of Quinn Mallory). Anyways, this “Sorcerer” seems to be able to control the multiverse technology in the same way William Bell does.

For one, he knows much more about the tech than anyone else who’s ever been encountered on the show. He’s also able to capitalize on his interdimensional knowledge, the same way Massive Dynamic exports the numerous advancements it gets from other worlds.
Ding, ding, ding! You’re a winner.

If we look deep enough, other resemblances will probably be found with other science-fiction series.
Who knows, perhaps the writers will totally shift focus and lose their “evil alternates” stories. Probably not
But at least now, you’ve been warned about Fringe‘s unoriginality.

Similarities between FOX’s Fringe and other science-fiction shows have been going on for some time, mainly The X-Files.
Ever since Fringe premiered, the first show that pops into everyone’s mind is the one about aliens and conspiracies.

A little warning before we start: I’ll be talking about the Second Season premiere of Fringe, so, if you haven’t seen the episode yet, check out in the meantime this cute ad.

Coast clear?
Okay, now that we’re among adults, let’s get real.

I’m not going to talk about the differences and similarities of Fringe vs. The X-Files, given that this has already been done before (kinda).
That said, I recently came across a so-called “article” that lists “10 Reasons Why ‘Fringe’ Is Better Than ‘The X-Files’.”
I should warn you now that if you read this, chances are you’ll have a heart attack in the following ten seconds.

I was so taken aback by this piece of–uhm–journalism (?) that I’ve decided to counter it right here and now.
Let’s get it on.

1. No aliens. OK, there’s an alternative universe, but at least everybody’s human.

So, besides the fact that we don’t know if they are indeed human (just look at their super-powers), you’re saying that Fringe is better than The X-Files because it doesn’t have aliens?
I take it you mean that aliens are bad.
If that’s so, then I’m sorry that Star Trek, Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, are such horrible, horrible fiction works.

2. The mysteries seem more solvable. Of course, there are unanswered questions at the end of every episode. But they’re not too stupid to beggar belief.

Are we watching the same show? And by “the same show” I mean the FOX TV series produced by Bad Robot, the sole company that actually takes pride in the fact that you’ll never get concrete answers out of their mysteries (see Alias, Lost, Cloverfield, or even Felicity’s mystery box).

3. The characters don’t take themselves too seriously. There’s Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), who heads up the investigations. Peter Bishop (Dawson Creek’s Joshua Jackson), the wise-cracking slack genius who helps her by taking care of his father, Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who is completely insane. I mean really, Mulder did all that pouting and screaming and what did it get him? Nothing.

First, Mulder doesn’t pout. Second, he not only was right about the Aliens, but he ended up in a relationship with Scully (and a baby). I wouldn’t call that “nothing.”
And I’m pretty sure Olivia Dunham does take things seriously, especially when we’re talking about innocent people dying everywhere.

4. The pseudoscience is at least theoretically possible and doesn’t require great leaps of the imagination. There’s a running storyline in which computer geniuses are trying to download information from a dead man’s brain.

Should I point out that you’re using as an example someone downloading a dead guy’s thoughts?
You’re countering your own argument here lady. This isn’t even remotely “theoretically plausible.” Nothing on Fringe is.
For some believable Science vs. Fiction comments, Popular Mechanics has numerous articles on the subject.

5. Every episode has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

They’ve finally found out how to tell a story, nice!
It’s certainly not like that other show with cliffhangers, random act breaks, and the bad guy never being caught.

6. There are no love affairs—yet.

The “love quadrangle” (John/Olivia/Peter/Rachel) begs to differ.
Oh, and check out that Nina Sharp/Phillip Broyles kiss, it was in the freakin’ season two premiere!

7. Leonard Nimoy is in it. He is the shadowy head of Massive Dynamic, a huge multinational corporation that is a combination of GE, Microsoft, and Blackwater.

Lenoard Nimoy was also in Zombies of the Stratosphere. So what?
Anyway, he wasn’t even in the premiere (by the way, nice dodge from the writers of last season’s cliffhanger). He’ll probably be seen only a few minutes for the whole season, max.

8. There’s a lot more racial diversity in Fringe. Yeah, X-Files had a few black people, but it really was this weird world where people of other hues were mostly used as plot devices.

Can someone tell me why the hell this is an argument for “why Fringe is better than The X-Files“?
I wasn’t aware skin color equated to talent. Robert de Niro has won more Oscars than Marlon Wayans, but Dennis Haysbert is obviously tons of time a better actor than, say, Larry the Cable Guy.
The issue of diversity, though laudable, is irrelevant to the actual quality of a show (or its writing).
Meanwhile, Astrid Farnswrth continues to be the definition of pointless character/plot device.

9. Because Fringe actually knows where its storylines are going, it doesn’t rely on filler episodes to distract you from the fact that you’re being sold a bag of nothing.

That was an ironic statement, right?
(See point number 2)

10. Fringe is worth watching just for Noble. His characterization of Bishop, the mad scientist at the heart of the show, is at turns brilliant, exasperating, hysterical and tragic. It’s the best of The X-Files in one man.

Though I don’t disagree with Bishop being the best character on the show, like the old proverb says, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
And Fringe has plenty of them.

All done…

Regarding its faux-procedural aspect, Fringe does, in a way, take a hint from The X-Files.
However, for its more mythological storylines, the writers seem to be more inspired by another science-fiction series, Sliders.
As to how, tune in tomorrow.
(Oh yeah, I went the cliffhanger route)

Hi there!

Alex Freedman

I'm Alex Freedman, the writer behind TV Calling.

I started this site in 2008 to chronicle my own journey in television writing.

693 posts and 9 years later, TV Calling has also become a comprehensive resource dedicated to the full TV writing industry — from spec to success.

Everything here is written by yours truly (unless otherwise credited), so feel free to blame me for any missed deadlines.

I hope you'll answer your television calling, and join me in this creative journey.

Write on.

P.S.: New around? You should start here.

What’s Alex Watching?

The Good FightThe LeftoversThe Chris Gethard ShowMaster of NoneLegion
TV Calling

TV Calling