The Light from the TV Shows: Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

First things first: welcome to the Bullz-Eye Blog’s new TV column, brought to you by the same person who’s brought you the site’s scintillating “Breaking Bad” reviews. Now that Walter White and the gang have wrapped Season 4 and Vince Gilligan has left us hanging ’til sometime in 2012, we’re going to be offered up a weekly look into the wonderful world of what’s on your television. It’s going to be rather loosely formatted, with topics sometimes being related to a series premieres and other times coming from out of the blue, but the ultimate goal is to offer up information and opinions about things that can currently be seen on the small screen.

Just to be contrary, though, let’s kick things off by discussing some shows that aren’t on the small screen anymore…or if they’re still on as of this writing, their death sentence has already been issued.

That’s right: we’re going to talk about the first crop of cancellations for the Fall 2011 TV season.

If we designate September 13 – the date that The CW debuted “Ringer” – as the beginning of the season, then we’re now five weeks into the proceedings. Funnily enough, that’s also how many shows have gotten the axe. Let’s do a bit of a post-mortem on the deceased series, shall we? And just for fun, I’ll also throw in a few previously-unpublished quotes from some of the conversations I had with cast members while they were in the throes of pimping their wares. I mean, criminey, I talked to five freaking people from “How to Be a Gentleman.” What the hell else am I going to do with these interviews?

R.I.P. The Playboy Club (NBC)

Amber Heard in The Playboy Club

Cancellation date: Oct. 4, 2011

What we said in our Fall Preview: “Given that this is ‘the guys’ portal to the web,’ it should come as no surprise to find that we here at Bullz-Eye find this series to be imminently watchable, in no small part because of the ever-gorgeous Amber Heard. It must be said, however, that the similarity in feel to ‘Mad Men‘ is almost unbearable at times, not just because it’s set in the ’60s, but also because if you close your eyes when Eddie Cibrian is talking, it might as well be Jon Hamm. Plus, not only is there a lot of melodrama on hand with the blend of romance and criminal activity, but the idea of having actors playing real ’60s celebrities – in the pilot episode, Ike and Tina Turner perform at the club – brings back dormant memories of ‘American Dreams.’ By the time the proceedings are over, there’s really only one question to be asked: will beautiful babes in bunny costumes be enough to keep us coming back? Up to a point, sure…which makes sense, since that’s why people kept coming back to the real Playboy Club. As for the show, though, we’ll see where things stand after a few episodes.”

Cancellation surprise level:  20%. The first time I watched the advance screener of the pilot, I kind of liked it. The second time I watched it, I liked it less. Admittedly, that second viewing took place after I’d listened to virtually the entire membership of the Television Critics Association moan about how awful it was, but it wasn’t just peer pressure that had dragged down my opinion. There’s no denying that “The Playboy Club” looked great, but upon screening it a second time, I was able to see past the visual appeal and realize that there was no substance beneath the style. I’d like to believe that America saw the same thing, but in reality, I think it probably had more to do with the combination of two other very viable alternatives (“Hawaii Five-0” and “Castle”) and viewers’ awareness that the “N” in NBC was never going to stand for nudity. Clearly, the idea of a Playboy-related series without naked ladies was about as satisfying as buying an issue of Mr. Hefner’s publication but only being allowed to read the articles.

Saddest quote from a cast member:

“I was interested in the character, I was interested in telling the story surrounding that character, I was interested in being a part of the world that that character lives in. I found a good story. I found a complex, interesting character-driven drama that involved a cast of several strong women. And I was, like, ‘I’m into this!’” Amber Heard

R.I.P. Free Agents (NBC)

Cancellation date: Oct. 6, 2011

What we said in our Fall Preview: “As it stands right now, ‘Free Agents’ lives or dies on the performances of the couple at the heart of the series. Fortunately, Azaria and Hahn are sweet, likeable, and very funny. So, for that matter, is Mr. Head, but we’ve come to expect that from the artist formerly known as Rupert Giles. Insofar as the rest of the ensemble goes, however, it’s mostly and miss. The only other person who really stands out is Leggero, but she’s only got a couple of lines. The big question is where the series will go from here. Will it stick to its current strengths and phase out most of Alex and Helen’s coworkers, or will it begin to flesh them out and turn this into a good old fashioned ensemble comedy? Hard to say. At the moment, though, it’s worth sticking around just to see Azaria and Hahn interact with each other. They’re just so darned cute!”

Cancellation surprise level:  60%. Although this was another sitcom that was mostly reviled by my peers, I actually found that I liked the pilot more after a second viewing. If this had been on Fox, I wouldn’t have been surprised that it was yanked so suddenly, but for NBC to pull the plug so quickly on an American adaptation of a British series…? I mean, we’re talking about the home of “The Office.” I’m sure Azaria’s thrilled with his buddy Bob Greenblatt right about now. So much for giving new shows a chance to grow…

Saddest quote from a cast member:

“I had kind of sworn off network TV a while ago. I’ve done two or three other network series that did not go well for me. But ‘Free Agents’… Frankly, it was too good a situation. I tried to say no. I’ve passed over plenty of projects or kept away from circumstances that I didn’t like for whatever reason, but I just found the script and the people to be so delightful that I really thought I’d be an idiot not to jump in.” – Hank Azaria

R.I.P. H8R (The CW)

Cancellation date: Oct. 6, 2011

What we said in our Fall Preview: All we’ve seen thus far is a ‘presentation’ to give us a feel for what the show will be like, but it now appears that the season premiere is going to feature the same material, namely Snooki from ‘Jersey Shore’ and Jake Pavelka from ‘The Bachelor’ each confronting a ‘hater.’ The concept itself isn’t so awful – it’s about time some of these internet trolls were taken to task by the people they’re mouthing off about from the safety of their computers – but based on the sampling of future ‘stars’ who’ll be appearing on the show, it’s clear that the word “celebrity” is going to be pretty relative. Given the competition, it’s hard to imagine that reality-show alumni facing off against their “haters” are going to pull sufficient ratings to make much of a ratings dent against actual reality shows like ‘Survivor’ and ‘The X-Factor.'”

Cancellation surprise level: 40%. As indifferent as I was to the “celebrities” that were being spotlighted on the show, it seemed in theory to be a series that would speak to the CW demo. Once viewed in the context of the network’s other series, however, “H8R” felt surprisingly out of place. Not that I blame them for preferring fake drama to real drama (sadly, the former comes off far more realistically), but, seriously, who knew that the majority of the people watching The CW had discerning taste?

Saddest quote from a cast member: Well, it’s a reality show where the only regular character is the host, so this really only applies to Mario Lopez, but when I looked over the TCA transcript for the “H8R” panel, nothing really leaped out at me as being particularly depressing in retrospect. Lots of talk about possibilities, almost no boasting about awesomeness. Maybe the producers didn’t have very high hopes for the series, either…?

R.I.P. How to Be a Gentleman (CBS)

Effectively cancelled Oct. 8, 2011*

What we said in our Fall Preview: “It doesn’t take much to figure out that if you blended Hornsby’s and Dillon’s characters together, you’d get some approximation of Barney Stinson, but this definitely isn’t ‘The Bro Code: The Series.’ Ironically, ‘Gentleman’ is the exact opposite of just about every other new sitcom to hit the airwaves this season, in that the ensemble is much more charming and funny than the leads. Actually, that’s not entirely true: the leads are fine, but Dillon in particular is stuck playing a man-brute while Hornsby has to be perpetually prim and proper, and although the latter’s not so bad, Dillon seriously needs to dial it down a few notches. But Foley’s as hilarious as usual in the role of Hornsby’s boss, who’s feeling his age and is trying desperately to make himself look young and seem relevant, and although Rajskub doesn’t get to do much more than act bitchy, there’s a lot of potential with the casting of Rhys Darby as her husband, who’s laugh-out-loud funny every time he opens his mouth. As it stands, though, we’re still a long, long way from inspiring me to switch my allegiance from ‘Parks & Recreation.'”

Cancellation surprise level: 80%. Y’see that asterisk up there by the words “effectively canceled Oct. 8”? If so, then you probably also noticed the addition of the word “effectively.” That’s because after only two episodes, CBS made the announcement that it was going to be shifting “How to Be a Gentleman” to Saturday nights, switching it out with the earlier-banished “Rules of Engagement.” Okay, fair enough: if it’s good enough for “Rules,” it’s good enough for “Gentleman.” Except it wasn’t. As it was, they’d halted production on the series, anyway, but two days after its Saturday debut, the network said, “Okay, now it’s really canceled.” Given all the talent involved in the series, surely the show deserved at least a little bit of breathing room.

Saddest quote from a cast member:

“Oh, it’s so great to have a parking pass. There have been some lean years where I would’ve been happy to be on a shitty show – you can write that as ‘sh*tty’ if you need to – but to actually luck out and wind up on an actually well-written show with an amazing cast…? The third amazing ensemble of my career. It’s pretty amazing. I loved (‘Death Comes to Town’ with) Kids in the Hall, but I need a career. I’ve got a lot of people to support, and I’m willing to do a lot of crappy work to support those people…and I have done over the last 10 years. The fact that I’ve actually managed to land another network show that actually turns out to be a good one, filled with a great cast of people who I really admire…? It’s amazing.”Dave Foley

R.I.P. Charlie’s Angels (ABC)

Charlie's Angels cancelled in 2011

Cancellation date: Oct. 14, 2011

What we said in our Fall Preview: “When it comes to new series and their eventual fate, this is probably the hardest to predict. On one hand, it’s a familiar property remembered fondly by children of the ’70s, which worked out well with ‘Hawaii Five-0.’ On the other hand, when they tried it with ‘The Bionic Woman,’ look what happened there…but, then, ‘The Bionic Woman’ wasn’t turned into a relatively successful film franchise like ‘Charlie’s Angels” was. Cast-wise, you’ve got a recognizable face in Minka Kelly, but her biggest claim to fame is ‘Friday Night Lights,’ a series that was never watched by nearly as many viewers as it should have been. Y’see what I mean? It’s really hard to say how audiences are going to react, especially given that it’s going to be up against the second night of ‘The X Factor’ and the established comedy blocks on CBS and NBC. I will say, however, that the pilot is played straight, with very little of the winking at the audience that seemed to be going on in the feature films, and if you’re a TV geek, that’s actually kind of intriguing. Plus, it’s full of action and, lest we forget, three ladies who are decidedly easy on the eyes. Worth checking out, but whether it succeeds for the long haul is too close to call.”

Cancellation surprise level: 50%. It had rough competition, but it also had name recognition, so it really could’ve gone either way. Given the gentlemen behind the scenes (Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, late of “Smallville”) I’d hoped it might have a chance to take flight (angel pun fully intended), but I guess the lack of any real matinee name made it hard for viewers to switch over and give it a chance. If only they’d used the first episode to tie the new series into either the original series or the movie franchise, I think the novelty value would’ve been enough to secure at least a full season. Oh, well.

Saddest quote from a cast member:

“My biggest fear…well, not fear, but my biggest pressure on myself is that I want people to gravitate to our show with an open mind and expect to see that charm that every ‘Charlie’s Angels’ has had, but be open to the fact that this is a 2011 version. We’re not trying to recreate anything. It’s not, like, “My character has to be like Drew Barrymore,’ or, ‘My character has to be like Kate Jackson.’ We want people to be open. For us, the biggest pressure is just that we want it to be good. With all the critics out there, and with shows dying so fast, I really want ours to have a long lifespan.”Annie Ilonzeh


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