The balance between drama and humor as well as the real world and animation forms the in-between element of what resonates with audiences in an overall fashion. Examining five more structures of possibility, certain ideas of shows continue to gestate, some with resounding consequences but others settling somewhere between the aspirations of what they are trying to accomplish.
Chaos An action series on a rogue CIA operative team (as envisioned by exec producer Brett Ratner) has possibilities. Entering into South Korea or angling arms dealers in Eastern Europe has viable DNA. While the team does create some interesting textures (especially in relation to Tim Blake Nelson’s assassin spy), the energy does not have the raucous chemistry needed for such as outing (like “Burn Notice”). This is not to say the function of the series is not burgeoning but with such lofty goals in terms of scripts (even using a base of Vancouver), the production value needs to resonate with the scope of the show. It does this more often that not obviously gleaning for a more rogue “NCIS” but striving with a sense of depth that does not quite take hold just yet.
Sym-Bionic Titan Taking leads from the mechanoid anime of the 80s and making it your own is not an easy task but creator Gendy Tartakovsky who found a new way of looking at the Star Wars universe is no stranger to challenge. Optimizing both 2D and very subtle 3D animation tools, he creates an adventure that is both familiar and new, bringing to mind some of the aspects of the old Gerry Anderson adventures. Granted the family dynamic that forms Titan between two orphans and an omniscent machine grounds the material as much as one can without falling into melodrama (which is a weakness that befalls “Evangelion” by comparison). Titan’s strength revolves in its use of pacing and cinematic structure without belittling its core younger audience yet it still commands respect from its older viewing crowd.
MAD This new interpretation of the landmark magazine comes at a crucial time in its evolution when the print medium it had worked with for so long is crumbling in inherent disrepair. The problem is that the long pane material that served its pages so well (even recently with “Mad Men”) is very difficult to imagine on-screen. Instead using cutouts similar to certain elements of “South Park”, it is able to play out as a more parody-style show. But unlike “Robot Chicken”, whose audience is up a bit later, MAD has to key in to a prime time “Clone Wars” demo which both helps and hinders. While certain parodies of “How To Train Your Dragon”, “Bourne Identity” and “Toy Story 3” have potential, it is the shorter form spurts like the well-regarded “Spy Vs. Spy” that really shine in the format. Time and evolution of a certain style will tell.
Breaking In The continuing prevalence of using humor as an offshoot to spy hunting actually resonates fairly well within this context of a security firm who is hired by high-end clients to test their weakness. The undeniable goof is that most of this team despite their different skill sets doesn’t emote the kind of searing brain-busting skill needed to effectively close these kind of operations, save for Christian Slater who, finally on TV, seems very comfortable in his own element. His character Oz doesn’t overwhelm the proceedings but is easily the most watchable aspect on the show. The one distinction that is missing though is a sense of scope. Within a smaller context, the show has possibility but it needs a more far-ranging structure (somewhat like “Chuck”) to give the stakes a little more resonance. The intuitive element of the romance between hacker lead Cameron and street smart Melanie, which is thwarted with comedically rich but narrative reducing Dutch (played with relish by Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum), has potential but ultimately doesn’t add the necessary texture of the story.
Human Planet While “Planet Earth” and “Life” made the animal experience very vivid, the idea of the human condition does not differ in too extreme of a way. The only drawback, despite the interesting notion of what is being seen, is that our understanding of human beings might be too familiar. The most extreme aspect involving the building of a massive treehouse by native locals who are naked is perhaps the most jarring but mostly because of the notion of technology staring them in the face. The other percolating elements such as monkey hunting and whale slaughter in less developed societies shows the primal nature that fuels us despite any notions of superiority. The human race is animals by nature but with a preconceived idea of family which brings us together. This point is solidified with the story of a Tibetan dad who takes his daughter and son on an extremely dangerous trek to simply attend school. That more than anything distinctifies the Human Planet.
Fox has always been at the forefront of trying new accents in terms of tonality within the broadcast structure taking changes on more edgy material that might hit or miss with audience depending on its structures. With some its new intensives including the long awaited “Terra Nova”, ambition plays heavily within the mind.
“Terra Nova” from the mind of Steven Spielberg and shepherded with the help of former Trek powerhouse Brannon Braga has the mythology and scope to create TV’s next big breakout show. Pace and breathe though can be hard to maintain unless the story structure is both inventive and mysterious, luminous yet tightly controlled.
Braga begins with the thought asking “can utopia be built?” and “is it practical?”. From the beginning with Spielberg, he says it is “ingenious what this guy comes up with”. In regards to the looming questions of production snafus which has plagued the series for months, Braga offers the fact that they only had one staff writing change because “it was taking longer than usual to mount this thing”.
The concept behind the show, as explained by Braga, is that there are pilgrimages to another world through a gate. Stephen Lang (late of “Avatar”) is first person back. He and others have been sent ahead to construct a town. The series picks up when there are 1000 people in the colony and 100 more coming through with every jump. The gate itself only opens every couple months. The myth as to how the portal was discovered is insinuated but the backstory points to a natural unearthing.
When he was helping wrap up “24”, he was aware of the project and that a script existed by Craig Silverstein. They wanted to get it up and running which obviously is credit to Spielberg. Braga says that it is the closest project he has worked on to “Star Trek” but that the series translates to him as “personally on a visual level using advanced technology in a primordial world”.
Alex Graves, who directed the much scrutinized pilot but also directed the “Fringe” pilot, jokes that part of the terror of having Steven Spielberg on your team is that he watches everything you do. In terms of shooting, he says that it took them a while to decide on Australia adding that “when you read the story, you could see what was coming”. He says that three hours after they got off the plane, “we started to see what could be in the show”. The location had caves, mountains and plant life. He says that what was good for the development of the pilot was that it took time. The crew was drafted as if they were going to war finding the best feature people they could. The show, he points out, is built and ready to go. He commits to the point that “this is not Lost” adding that “this is made for a massively broad audience…for everyone…everyone from my kids to myself to a gamer”.
Stephen Lang, who played the military baddie in the uberhit “Avatar”, plays Frank Taylor, one of the first humans to go back. He says, in terms of “Avatar” that “my scars are internal” saying that “people do come up to me and say ‘I really hate you'”. He adds jokingly that he takes the subway so he doesn’t make a scene. He points to the fact that with the worldwide impact of television, “Terra Nova” might have bigger impact than “Avatar” which is hard to imagine though he paints this project as “very different”.
Taking a very different spin by comparison is “Traffic Light” which based on the concept of people in cars and the comedy ensuing from that interaction to daily life in a comedic fashion seems a bit daunting.
David Hemingson, one of the exec producers, says that creating alot of the “live” feeling in the car with the cast has to come from improvisation. When they first wrote it, the problem was seeing if the actual “car scenes” would work. Unlike in studio car shots, these are done on the streets on actual process trailers. This was done “to create a dynamic and encourage conversational naturalism” though he admits he is prone to parking tickets.
Bob Fisher, one of the other exec producers with the writing team as well, explains that they started writing to that kind of naturalism in general. The first step was deciding that the car would be a material component of the show though they wanted to keep them short. They cut between the action in three cars consistently. The first bit ends with Nelson Franklin, who plays Adam, being pulled over. The irony is that when you do a car scene the coverage is surprisingly good although the actual reality of being on a process trailer is that you are constantly breathing fumes.
Nelson jumps in stating that “a good portion of our show works because the banter we have on show is because we are generally friends off camera.” His character Adam, he admits, is trying to be the best friend by trying to catch up with his buddies during errands. The delivery he explains was unconventional but its effectiveness “wasn’t even a question”.
“Breaking In” is a new half hour comedy using a tech-fueled ensemble that seeks to blend some of the esrtwhile spy hijinks of “Chuck” with Christian Slater’s own short lived hour dramatic “My Own Worst Enemy”. In using the shorter format, the hijinks of the intended endgame might resolve better than those before it.
Slater, for his part, is always ready for the challenge. He admits that the Oz whom he plays wasn’t as flushed out as it needed to be which called for refinement. This character heads Contra Security, and as Slater puts it, “he has his hands in alot of pots” though he does describe the guy as “an eccentric”. He continues that Oz know what the outcomes of a certain course of action will be from the start which allows to plan to do “illegal things legal”.
Seth Gordon, one of the creators, was the man behind the documentary “King Of Kong”. What interested him was this growing underground community of hackers but seeing it as a new office situation because of the evolution of ideas it presents.
Bret Harrison, who plays the lead Cameron Price, says that the approach to the character has to be about more than him being smart which is reflected in his awkwardness. Cameron’s safety zone resided in college where he feels safe which balances to the idea that any other place becomes a challenge.
Fox continues to approach the programming game with a variety of elements, the most intensive in years being “Terra Nova” because of its investment but with smaller shows like “Traffic Light” and “Breaking In” in specifying to concept, they have ability for some breakout shows.