Well, it's Sunday night, and my usual televised staples — "The Amazing Race," "Celebrity Apprentice," football (yes, I do watch football) — are nowhere to be found; so what did I do? No, I didn't read that book that my parents gave me six months ago; although, I'm starting to think I should. You see, I just wiled away thirty minutes of my life watching the second half of "Million Dollar Password," the latest incarnation of the classic game show that has regular folks team up with celebrities in an action-packed tour de force of synonyms and stuttering. It's a tried and true formula — one that's sure to enthrall as much as it frustrates — but as I sat there and watched Jamie Kennedy, Norm MacDonald, and their un-famous partners struggle for words, I couldn't help thinking that somewhere along the line, the talent pool had definitely dropped a few IQ points.
This is not to say that these people were dumb. It's just that they acted dumb when put under pressure. For instance, there was the sweet-natured but woefully inarticulate blond girl who seemed incapable of divining the word "camel" from Norm MacDonald's clues. Never mind that he said DROMEDARY (and hump and desert). Somehow this lady wound up uttering "ELEPHANT!" not once, but twice as if her sheer persistence would earn her the win. I mean, okay, elephants have been known to trek through the desert (what up, Planet Earth), and okay, maybe the word "dromedary" is a bit advanced for certain people, but since when did elephants have humps? And if for some reason they do, since when were they the preeminent humped animal of the desert instead of, say, CAMELS?
Oh, but it got worse.
To quote the prolific Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, “You gotta get a gimmick if you want to get ahead.”
That axiom applied to the strippers in the Broadway musical, and it also applies to producers and networks trying to stand out in today’s immense ocean of reality programming. No longer is it enough to have a killer concept or compelling material. And gone are the days when you’ll automatically get eyeballs just because you launch on a big network with a major publicity blitz. (Raise your hand if you watched “High School Musical: Get in the Picture.” That’s what I thought.)
I work in the reality biz. It’s my job to stay on top of trends and sample as much programming as possible.
But even I’m suffering from chronic “reality fatigue.” I can only imagine how Joe and Jane Six Pack feel about the bottleneck on the reality highway.
Today you need a hook -- and a big one -- if you’re going to convince viewers to invest in your product week after week. For that matter, you need a hook if you’re going to convince viewers to even sample your program in the first place.
Enter Bravo’s “Miami Social,” a “ “Real Housewives” -style docusoap about hotties living and loving in (wait for it...) Miami. The show doesn’t premiere until July 14th, but it’s already in my DVR queue.
Why? Well, besides the promised intrigue, romance, glitz and catfights we’ve come to expect from Bravo, “Social” also features two reality pioneers making their long-awaited (at least by me) comeback to the genre.
Hardy Ames Hill (the hunky boy scout from the long-ago-but-not-forgotten “Big Brother 2”) and Katrina Campins (the young real estate diva from the landmark first season of “The Apprentice”) have been cast to stir things up, and hopefully reconnect with past fans. This is big news in a world where we’re used to seeing the same faces year after year on MTV’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” or VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab”... or even (God help me) “I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!”
It’s certainly not a re-invention of the wheel, but stacking a new show’s cast with long-lost reality vets from a kinder, simpler era and putting them in a new situation is certainly fresh and somewhat innovative. Given the insatiable appetite viewers have for Bravo’s delicious and decadent docusoaps, out-of-the-box ideas like this can only help Social’s prospects. If the show succeeds, I would think the Burnetts, Fleisses, Grodners and Roth’s of the reality world will certainly be combing their archives for graduates of their franchises who might be ready for a comeback.
What do you think? Will you be watching “Miami Social”? And what stars from the reality history books would you like to see return to the screen in a different vehicle? I’ll go first: “Survivor’s” Sue Hawk on the next season of “Ice Road Truckers.”
Nancy Dubuc, are you listening?
Among those who were in the audience tonight for Jay Leno’s final “Tonight Show”: Edd Hall, Leno’s announcer for the first 12 of his 17 years as host of the NBC late-night show. Besides making the show’s introductory announcements, Hall, now 50, was frequently seen on the show participating in comedy bits.
He reports he was invited to attend Friday's final show and the after-party at an undisclosed location (he disclosed it to me, but swore me to secrecy). The show also sent him a souvenir.
“They invited me to the show and to the party and they sent me a little yearbook,” he said this morning on the phone from L.A. after I contacted him via his personal Web site, eddhall.com. “Apparently they made up a yearbook of the show over the past 17 years with pictures. It’s fun.”
He said he was looking forward to running into Leno and bandleader Kevin Eubanks, but he was also hoping to see Branford Marsalis, the Leno “Tonight” show’s first bandleader who left in 1995. (As it happens, Marsalis will likely not be there — a tour schedule on his Web site, branfordmarsalis.com, indicates he’s in Europe this week.)
Hall told me he misses “The Tonight Show,” but doesn’t regret moving on in 2004 to pursue a career as a freelance voiceover artist. His voice is heard in dozens of commercials and he was also the announcer on the syndicated series “Crosswords,” Merv Griffin’s last quiz show.
So why did you leave “The Tonight Show,” Edd?
“[The job] was only a few hours a day, but it was everyday, so I couldn’t take on any other work,” Hall said.
“It was one of those things where you get into something and you do it over and over again for a long time [and] you just kind of go, You know what? It’s OK. I can try something different,” he explained, noting that he had spent nearly 25 years in late-night TV.
What many people may not know about Edd Hall (including me) was that he had started his career in late-night as an NBC page in New York in 1979, working on “Saturday Night Live.” He eventually worked for David Letterman when Letterman hosted NBC’s “Late Night.” Hall was a graphics producer and an occasional announcer on comedy bits for Letterman’s show, which was how Hall eventually came to be hired for Leno’s “Tonight Show.”
“I had a bunch of work that I had done for Letterman so we [Hall and his manager] put together a little tape and we sent it over [to NBC] and they called me in.”
It was a dream job. “I loved driving on to a lot and there was my parking space with my name on it,” Hall said. “I’ve missed coming to the show everyday. I didn’t think I would, but I miss doing that. It’s a great gig.”
As for his decision to move, he says now: “At the time, it was exactly what I needed.”
A version of this post originally appeared on Buckman's blog, TV Howl.
21-year-old unknown Karen Gillan has been cast in season five of “Doctor Who,” where she will star alongside incoming series lead Matt Smith, who replaces David Tennant as the Doctor when Tennant departs the series later this year.
Filming on season five of “Doctor Who” is set to begin this summer and the series is expected to debut on BBC One next spring.
Gillan is no stranger to “Doctor Who,” however, and appeared early on in season four in the episode "The Fires of Pompeii," where she played a soothsayer on the much-beloved British series. She has previously also appeared in such programs as “Rebus,” “Harley Street,” “The Kevin Bishop Show,” and “Stacked” and can be seen opposite James Nesbitt in the upcoming feature film “Outcast,” written and directed by Colm McCarthy.
I really wanted to like FOX's new procedural drama Human Target, which launches on the network next year, but found myself wondering about what the series could have been rather than what it actually is.
Based on a DC comic by Len Wein and Carmen Infantino (and later redeveloped into a Vertigo title by Peter Milligan), Human Target tells the story of Christopher Chance (Fringe's Mark Valley), a man who protects those in danger by becoming a literal human shield, a moving target capable of drawing the fire of those out to imperil his well-paying clients.
Chance is assisted in these high-stakes missions by his best friend and business manager Winston (Pushing Daisies' Chi McBride) and a tech-savvy nutcase named Guerrero (Watchmen's Jackie Earle Haley) whose allegiances seem as fluid as quicksilver. But rather than just watch his clients from afar, Chance forces his way into their lives, posing as someone who has access to their every move.
In the pilot episode, written by Jon Steinberg (Jericho) and directed by Simon West (Keen Eddie), we glimpse three such cases involving an array of clients. We're introduced to Chance, in fact, during a hostage situation at a bank where an irate and recently fired employee, Hollis (Desperate Housewives' Mark Moses), is threatening to kill his boss Ken Lydecker and detonate a bomb, killing everyone inside. Chance manages to free Lydecker (and switches places with him in the process), manages to disarm Hollis and shoot him, but doesn't manage to prevent him from detonating the plastic explosive on his vest. It's an explosion that kills Hollis and injures Chance in the process.