Mr. Coogans Monday Groove Tube Update 05.17.04

I’ve had this idea kicking around in my mind for a couple of months now, and since I wanted to get something done before my Monday due date, I thought this would be a good time to bring to life my new “spin-off” column.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know what a spin-off television series is. Characters may appear on the initial show at some point and they are introduced to the action, but after that initial appearance, they are jettisoned off to live their own life and tell their own stories to the viewing public. The phenomenon has been present for years. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ended up spawning three of its own spin-offs. Most recently, it was announced that NBC would air a series based on Joey Tribbiani of “Friends” called “Joey.” In addition, “CSI: Miami” introduced the main characters that will comprise of the cast of next season’s new “CSI: New York.” Oh yeah and probably the most famous sitcom spin-off of all time, “Frasier” (based on a character from “Cheers”) said good bye to loyal fans on Thursday, May 13th.

So, since it can be done in the television industry, why can’t an online columnist writing about television do the same thing?

So, I’m going to use this space once to launch my newest column creation that will rely completely on reader feedback. Similar to what Leonard Hayhurst does in the movies zone (and does remarkably well), I’m going to launch a column devoted to answering readers’ questions about the world of television, aptly naming the new column:

“Mr. Coogan’s TV Q & A”

You’ll ask the question and I’ll do my best to research the answer or give an appropriate opinion depending on the nature of the question. Of course, I am going to set some ground rules about a column like this so it doesn’t morph into some ridiculous mockery that tries to make me look bad. Here goes

1. While I am wildly excited that people from other countries and continents read 411mania.com and my particular column, please note that my specialty is American television. If you’re from Canada, England, or Australia and ask me an intelligent question about a show unique to your country, I will research it to the best of my ability and offer up whatever I find. However, those answers will be based strictly on research I uncover not based on my opinion of the show since I’ve never an episode seen before. I would love to start some sort of television exchange program and learn more about other shows from my readers. So, if you’re interested, definitely contact me and we can start some sort of “tape trade” program.

2. Looking ay my specialty even further, I’m more in tune with entertainment and sports related television. I watch as much CNN and Fox News as possible and am well aware of what happens at the news channels, but I definitely don’t spend hours per day watching war coverage or stories about Kobe Bryant’s rape trial.

3. I will not run questions I think are directly asked in order to “stump me.” I’m not running a radio giveaway where you try to stump the expert in the studio in order to win a “prize package” worth about $27. I’m starting this because I think it could be fun and interesting to help people expand their knowledge of television or answer that nagging question that’s been eating at them for long periods of time. I’m not trying to show how “smart” I am, how much I “know,” or how “well” I can research a particular topic. If you’re writing for any of those reasons, I will ignore you.

4. I will never change the content of a person’s question to make it appear that you are asking something you didn’t. However, I will feel free to edit for spelling, grammar, spacing, or anything else that needs attention. Also, I would like to put a name with the person I am responding to. So, every question I answer will include the person’s name or how their email account is identified. So, if I get an email from “John Smith,” I’ll say I got an email from “John Smith.” If I get an email from UltimateWarriornumber1fan@mail.com with no name attached to it, I’ll say I got an email from “UltimateWarriornumber1fan.” If you don’t want your name used in my column, please say so very clearly at some point in your email.

5. Whether or not I answer remarkably general questions like “What’s your favorite TV show of all time?” or “I hate reality TV, don’t you?” will be completely left up to me. Sometimes I may want to answer those questions and sometimes I won’t want to. You are better off asking more specific questions about a particular show, network, or some sort of industry strategy.

6. If you send me one email with multiple questions, I reserve the right to pick and choose the ones I want to answer. I will do my best to NEVER cut out certain questions asked, but if I feel you’re being a dope or asking one of those horribly general questions I could write a book about, I will exercise my right to cut as needed.

7. If you ask me any questions about any movies, that ARE NOT MADE-FOR-TV movies, I will simply write back to you and offer you Leonard Hayhurst’s email address. As I said earlier, he writes the “Ask 411movies” column for the Movies zone and does a fabulous job. He doesn’t need me infringing on his turf in that manner. If you have questions about particular DVD releases, I will likely only focus on those related to certain seasons of certain television shows, not when Kill Bill: Volume 2 is released in stores.

8. As of now, I will continue to write the Monday “Groove Tube Update” and continue to talk about the latest TV news, issues, or the “biggest thing” happening in the industry. How often I run THIS column will be determined strictly by reader interest. If I receive a lot of questions, I’ll be very busy writing two weekly television columns for 411BLACK. If I receive very few questions, I will only run the column once-a-month or bi-weekly. If I don’t receive any interest, this will be the only time I write this column. Hopefully, that won’t be the case.

9. I accept questions either at: coachcoogan@hotmail.com or scoogan@mail.com.

In the mean time, here is an example of what a typical column will look like .These are a few reader questions I’ve received over the last week or so mixed in with some other random things I saw or came up with

Q: I wondered what your thoughts are on devoting some time to what FX is doing with their original programming. I’ve been a huge fan of The Shield since it started, and was equally enamored with the debut of “Nip/Tuck” last season. Both (are) very edgy shows, both brutally realistic in their character development and subject matter, and both surprisingly engrossing mostly I think with having writers who know how to string a plot thread out over the span of an entire season.

Last night, I catch the promo for FX’s newest series called “Rescue Me,” focusing on firefighters and their emotional conflicts over being perceived as heroes and how the job affects their personal lives. It’s got Denis Leary in it, which makes it a “must watch” for me because I think the guy is a genius, but it looks like he’ll be less “Denis” and more of a serious actor in this one (I’m sure it’ll have flashes of the sarcastic ravings Leary is famous for (a la the end of The Ref), but I’m guessing they’ll downplay those for the good of the show).

For the past three years, FX has crafted some of the best television out there along with a string of very well written original film programming as well (“44 Minutes” comes immediately to mind). I’m curious to know what you know about “Rescue Me,” but also about your thoughts on the “little network that could” and what its doing. Thanks.

— Kurt Dieckmann

As always, Kurt provides intelligent reader feedback. He does this not only for me, but other zones in the 411mania.com family. Thank you. In terms of your questions, first “Rescue Me.”

I actually wrote about the FX announcement of this show in the January 24th Groove Tube Update. Here’s what I said:

According to various sources, including Reuters and TV Barn, FX has ordered 13 episodes of a new drama (which will probably be close to a dramedy) entitled “Rescue Me.” The show will star accomplished comic and actor Denis Leary as he plays Tommy Gavin, a firefighter who is trying to hide his fear of his job post-9/11 while recovering from his recent divorce.

In the article, when Leary talks about his character, he says that Tommy is:

a really conflicted, funny and screwed-up character, which to me is always the most fun guy to play.

So, while the show will be a drama, it appears Leary will have ample opportunity to flex the comedic muscles he’s developed over the years, which is certainly good for the show.

While it may seem a bit ironic to include humor in such a show that tells stories in such a stressful environment, it’s actually pretty normal according to the actor. In a Reuters/Hollywood Reporter story, he said:

There is a lot of humor in the fire department. Even after 9-11, these guys get by with their sense of humor. I thought it was an interesting dynamic to have to deal with that amount of grief and that (post-Sept. 11) circumstance and at the same time go to work every day and fight fires going in there with the sensibility that it could be your last day at work.

I like the possibility of this show, A LOT. The main character sounds quirky enough where viewers could respect his plight and grow to like him. Leary sounds like a good choice to play the lead, especially since it won’t always be straight drama all the time. However, when it needs to be intense, Leary has the kind of personality that can easily slip into a more dramatic mode.

The subject matter also is quite unique as it not only deals with firefighters alone (NBC’s “Third Watch” has storylines revolving around cops and paramedics as well), but in addition, captures their reaction to life as a fire fighter in New York City after September 11th. FX has already struck gold with “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck.” I think it’s quite possible; they could be a lock to get third solid show to their arsenal.

So, “Rescue Me” should be an interesting hybrid of Denis Leary’s nasty, well-written, unsympathetic, fast moving comedy along with great drama and a topic (September 11th) with a group of people that really hasn’t been addressed before. Not only am I looking forward to the show simply because of Denis Leary’s presence, but I think the subject matter will be dramatic and entertaining while also being poignant and relevant as well.

As for the network itself, it’s certainly pretty easy to like what they’re doing over there. They are almost mirroring HBO with the type of quality dramatic programming they are pumping out. “The Shield” is exciting and completely unconventional, difficult considering the number of police shows that are out there. “Nip/Tuck” brutally looks at the world of plastic surgery, both on the operating table and in the psychology of those getting the surgery. This coupled with the performances of Julian McMahon, Dylan Walsh, and Joely Richardson make the show riveting.

However, while I think network is one of the Top 3 cable channels in the industry when it comes to providing solid original programming, they have struck out before, most notably with the dreadful reality series, “Todd TV.” The concept alone was pretty interesting (the audience “deciding” what one guy does with his life by voting) but the casting was dreadful and it wasn’t as interactive as “American Idol.”

In addition, the network really isn’t that much different than the more established TNT and TBS in that they show syndicated repeats of old television shows and movies that are edited for time and full of commercial interruptions. Don’t get me wrong, I like being able to watch some of my favorite canceled shows and movies I don’t own pop up on my television screen. However, that’s what HBO is for. My digital cable package gives me a total of 12 HBOs (six standard channels and the west versions that show programs three hours after they air initially). I pay $10 per month to see dozens of movies and the outstanding original programming the network puts together. I’m able to enjoy this without commercial interruption. So, while the format is deliberately different, it’s also more appealing.

Since FX is constrained to editing out content and dialogue for language from their movies and showing repeats of older television shows, it makes me like what they’re doing a little less.

The bottom line from my end is that while I like what the people at FX are doing, I would certainly appreciate what they’re doing more if they created more quality original programming that separated itself from the other cable networks and drew me in the same way “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck” has.

Speaking of shows that run during the summer, I also received the following question that relates to FX:

Q: My question is will the summer ever develop into an actual independent season? New summer shows are generally reality knock-offs, limited run shows like “TV Nation,” failed shows they need to air just to use up the episodes, or lame specials with names like World’s [adjective] [noun] Videos IX. Do you ever think we’ll see a drama or a sitcom that runs through the summer and repeats in the winter?

— Kyle McCowin

Well, I suppose that depends on what you think is happening now. FX and HBO are doing that as we speak. FX is running the first season’s episodes of “Nip/Tuck” again before the new episodes start at the end of June. In addition, HBO is running last season’s episodes of “Six Feet Under” on Sunday nights before new installments of “The Sopranos” and “Deadwood” run for the first time. All this before new episodes of “Six Feet Under” start at the beginning of June.

So, very basically, the answer to Kyle’s question is “Yes.” However, I think the issue goes a little bit deeper. Consider these points:

1. For the last several decades, the television industry has been set up so that the season starts in September, experiences “sweeps” months (where ratings are measured and important in determining advertising rates) in November, February, and May and essentially ends progressively through the month of May until it starts again in September. That structure isn’t likely to change any time soon. Seeing as that’s likely, the broadcast networks especially don’t have ANY motivation to air original series during the summer and repeat them during the fall and winter when more people will actually be watching.

2. HOWEVER the trend that has started (and something I have discussed in this space before) is that the networks are starting to program for the summer. Obviously, that means they are planning new series that strictly broadcast during the summer. NBC has done that with “For Love or Money” and “Who Wants to Marry my Dad? CBS has aired multiple seasons of “Big Brother” and Fox just announced their plan to air a whopping SIX new series to air for the summer while most of the shows aired the rest of the year are yanked off the schedule entirely.

It’s pretty clear that this is being done to COUNTER what the cable networks are doing, which is essentially12-month programming. However, since the cable networks have fewer shows to slip into timeslots, they not only spend more time developing them, nurturing them, and constantly airing repeats of them, it ends up working pretty well for those networks. Meanwhile, the NBC’s and Fox’s of the world are expected to crank out successful shows pretty much like an assembly line as their television executive forefathers did during from the dawn of the competing network era, but before cable became an important part of the television landscape.

So, the broadcast networks don’t have much incentive to show many repeats anymore because if viewers have seen something already, they will likely see what else is out there. So, technically, while the answer to Kyle’s question is “Yes.” The reality is that the broadcast networks wouldn’t touch that concept with a ten foot pole.

Q: I read in your column about Lloyd Braun, a former ABC chairman. Now, I am a HUGE Seinfeld fan and there’s this character called Lloyd Braun, George’s childhood friend that had a mental meltdown. Was that a HUGE coincidence or an inside joke towards the ABC chairman?

— Dave Gagnon, 411mania staff writer

I’ll admit Dave, that’s a pretty obscure question However, that is what this column is all about, especially if I can find information about it.

Lloyd was played by Peter Keleghan (primarily known for his role on “General Hospital”) initially and then replaced by Matt McCoy (Sgt. Nick Lassard from the later Police Academy movies) in the following three episodes:

1. #71 “The Non-Fat Yogurt” In this episode, the audience is introduced to Lloyd as George’s (Jason Alexander) obnoxious childhood friend who is a hot shot advisor to (then) New York City Mayoral candidate, David Dinkins. Lloyd and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) end up going out and during the date, she suggested to Lloyd that as part of the campaign, Dinkins should get everyone to wear name tags so people can say hello to each other. This was announced and it was “reported” by the media that the stunt could have “cost him the election” to Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

2. #120 “The Gum” After “botching the election” for Mr. Dinkins, poor Lloyd had a nervous breakdown and wasn’t even close to the man he was. The main characters saw him and Elaine attempted to avoid him. However, she wasn’t successful and after lying to Lloyd, Jerry was forced to wear glasses every time he was around Lloyd.

3. #159 “The Serenity Now” A classic episode where George’s father, Frank (Jerry Stiller) wanted to get into selling computers. He hired both George and Lloyd to sell the items via the telemarketing route. Lloyd was having luck initially and George got grief from Frank about it. George responded by buying two dozen computers with the intent of padding his numbers and then returning them just to beat Lloyd. He stored them in Kramer’s (Michael Richards) apartment, but Kramer went ballistic in an event to stay calm and destroyed all the computers.

(**Note: Other storylines unfolded during each episode, but I only focused on events surrounding Lloyd Braun).

It’s evident that poor Lloyd comes out looking like a massive schmuck during the three episodes in which his character appeared. Was this a shot directly at former ABC Chairman, Lloyd Braun?

It could be interpreted as such now, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. In researching some “Seinfeld” related websites, I found this explanation:

In the 90’s, Lloyd Braun was a named partner at a Brentwood, CA law firm Silverberg, Katz, Thompson & Braun. One of Lloyd’s clients was Larry David. Seinfeld show, as you might well know, used names of friends and collegues in the seriers as sort of a tribute to each – other names included Gavin Palone (a Hollywood agent), Joe Mayo, etc.

Lloyd left his law firm in 1994 or 95 to head up business affairs at Brillstein Grey, a television production company that had a deal with ABC. Lloyd moved directly to the ABC network.

While the Lloyd Braun character was a real dope on “Seinfeld,” I am pretty sure using his name was more of a friendly, nice gesture instead of an attack towards the guy running the other network – especially since he didn’t get to ABC until several years after the episodes aired. It is pretty interesting it turned out that way though, isn’t it?

Thanks to Stan and his friends for their help on this question.

Q: Do you know if this is “NYPD Blue’s” last season?

— Rick Funcannon

Normally, this would be a standard “yes or no” question and that would be the end of it. Then again, there has been some external drama about the successful, long running ABC police drama. Tentatively, the last episode shown (on May 11th) was merely a season finale and Creator Steven Bochco signed on for a 12th season. However, Bochco is steamed about the racy content on his show essentially getting torched out of recent episodes because of the whole Janet Jackson/Super Bowl/”Boobgate” scandal. ABC has pretty much shown they are afraid of the big, bad FCC and the mammoth fines they are starting to impose on those media outlets that violate standards of indecency. Therefore, the network has ordered Bochco to cut out the potentially offensive language (going completely against what Entertainment President, Susan Lyne wanted several years ago) and also the racy sex scenes and anything involving graphic violence. Bochco is extraordinarily upset and has publicly tossed out statements saying it may not be worth bringing back “NYPD Blue” if he, the writers, and production staff can’t tell the stories they want and in the manner that they want to tell them.

So, it’s still up in the air to some degree whether the show will come back and close things out. I imagine Bochco will work with the new ABC brass to make this happen and allow one of the television’s most groundbreaking shows in the last 20 years to leave appropriately instead of abruptly. However, that certainly isn’t set in stone. After all, Bochco also has other projects in the work, most prominently a drama for FX about the War in Iraq. It’s not like he’s desperate for work. Nonetheless, I think fans would be disappointed if the show ended the way it did, despite Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) actually being happy for once

Does anyone know if NBC will ever put out any DVD sets of Seinfeld? It’s my number one favorite sitcom EVER and I think if they released every season on DVD they would sell like crazy. Does anyone have any info on this?

— 411mania Fan Forums – TV Forum

That’s a good question and one that deserves to be looked at closely.

Thankfully, I already addressed that question in my March 6th Groove Tube Update . It was then when I wrote:

As dozens of shows that don’t deserve to be released on DVD are being released (“My Big Fat Greek Life?”), I am sure it has crossed the minds of thousands of people where a legendary show like “Seinfeld” has been in the DVD collection madness.

Well, as one might expect, “Seinfeld” hasn’t been overlooked in this frenzy, there just have been some “issues” that needed working out. According to the New York Post, Jason Alexander (George Costanza on the show) told the Toronto Globe and Mail that the details have been worked out and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine Benes) and Michael
Richards (Cosmo Kramer) will be providing extra material to the DVD collection being released by Jerry Seinfeld and Castle Rock television.

According to previous reports, the hold up in releasing the DVD is that the three stars of the former NBC hit sitcom did not want to participate in the making of the package because they were not going to see any royalties from it.

However, according to quotes in the Toronto newspaper, Alexander stated that they are in negotiations with Castle Rock and Seinfeld and they will be taking part in the making of the collection. At this point, there isn’t a release date of the DVD, but I think we can all breathe a deep sigh of relief and know that it will be on its way in the near future.

Alexander also stated that Seinfeld has hogged all the residuals saying he has seen “about a quarter million dollars of residuals” while their fearless leader has seen “hundreds of millions of dollars.” If that’s the case, can you blame the cast for holding out?

Since then, not much has really changed. There is a plan to get the DVD done. However, a distributor hasn’t been chosen yet. That isn’t necessarily a problem either though since I’m sure studios are pounding down the doors to be able to reap the benefits of one of the most successful and beloved sitcoms of all time. If I had to venture a guess as to when a first season package would be available, I’d say situations would be worked out accordingly and should be available in time to make a nice, but expensive, Christmas gift for someone.

What do you think of Mos Def taking part in the new HBO movie about being one of the pioneers of modern heart surgery?

— Mark “Rowdy Bull” Urciuolo 411mania staff writer and one of my boys

For those not aware, hip hop artist, Mos Def, will be starring with an all star cast including, Alan Rickman, Kyra Sedgwick, Gabrielle Union, Charles S. Dutton, and Mary Stuart Masterson in the HBO movie, Something the Lord Made. The movie is set to debut on Sunday, May 30th (I’m not sure if that will preempt “The Sopranos.” I have a feeling they will air it before the movie).

According to the HBO website, the story is essentially about an “ambitious white surgeon” and a “gifted black carpenter, turned lab technician” defying racial structures of the 1950s thanks to the southern Jim Crow Laws to perform a partnership that essentially pioneered heart surgery as we know it.

What do I think of the casting? I think it’s a little bit peculiar considering producers could have asked another more established African-American actor to be involved. This is especially true considering Mos Def hasn’t tackled too much drama in his acting career. Then again, he did hold a supporting role in the dramatic Monster’s Ball. So, he shouldn’t be discounted either.

The bottom line is film producers wouldn’t have cast him if they didn’t think he could handle the role. I think he will bring a wonderfully subdued performance to the role, something that I imagine would be important considering the time where the movie takes place.

While Mark didn’t ask about it, this question does remind me of some non-Will Smith Hip Hop/Rap music stars making the “leap” from music to acting that I’ve liked. Consider this list:

**Ice-T Probably best known for his role in New Jack City and NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit,” Ice-T often does a great job of throwing away his “tough guy/cop killer” rap star persona and stepping right into a role. He plays Detective Odafin ‘Fin’ Tutuola on “Law & Order” with a subdued intensity of sorts. It’s obvious he wants to catch the criminal, but can act cool and calculated enough to handle each sensitive situation carefully. When this is combined with his slick good looks, he brings a certain kind of magnetism to the screen.

**LL Cool J The man born James Todd Smith performed respectably in the television sitcom he anchored from 1995-99. “In the House” actually ran for four seasons starting out on NBC before moving over to UPN. He was a likable lead character who was lucky enough to get assistance from accomplished sitcom actors Kim Wayans (“In Living Color,” one of approximately 24 Wayans’ in show business) and Alfonso Ribeiro (“The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”) to make the show progress with more comedic zest. He’s also performed admirably in big blockbuster movies such as Any Given Sunday and 2003’s S.W.A.T..

**Ice Cube With the exception of a few television appearances, Ice Cube has kept his acting primarily to the big screen anchoring successful urban comedy franchises like Barbershop and Friday. In addition, he performed well in the 1999 action drama Three Kings anchoring a large cast with George Clooney and mark Wahlberg.

While no one ever said that hip hop/rap stars can’t be successful actors, it IS interesting to see these performers grouped together in a way that reminds us that these folks are multi-talented and have performed well both in television and film acting.

Q: Should I know the name Seth McFarlane?

— Steve Coogan, addressing a point

You definitely should know Seth McFarlane, especially if you’re a big fan Fox’s oft-canceled and oft-renewed animated sitcom, “Family Guy.” As was announced earlier this year, “Family Guy” Creator and Producer, McFarlane and his production staff have been given the green light to produce a new fourth season of the adventures of Peter Griffin and his family in Quahog, RI. According to some reports, as many as 35 new episodes (that could break down to 1 ½ seasons) will be produced and aired starting mid-season 2005. The one question about the show that has yet to be answered is whether or not Fox will air the show or ship it right to the Cartoon Network as the repeats are being aired there now. Considering Fox is likely going to be desperate for scripted comedies, I don’t know how they could turn it down in favor of additional repeats of “The Simpsons” or “Malcolm in the Middle.”

I’ve also read that McFarlane is working with Fox to develop another animated sitcom entitled “American Dad.” The show will contain some similar elements to “Family Guy” but will be drastically different in others. The show will have a family structure, but the main character is the polar opposite of Peter Griffin. Instead, he will be an intelligent, ultra-conservative CIA agent living with his family which will include an ultra-liberal daughter, a housebound alien, and a talking goldfish (the latter two taking off from the ultra randomness an alcoholic dog and an evil talking baby that “Family Guy” bring to the screen).

If given the opportunity to succeed, “Seth McFarlane” could be as influential of a creator as “The Simpsons'” Matt Groening was. Of course, he needs the opportunity to NOT BE canceled after several episodes. Here’s to hoping he can make his mark on television comedy

In the mean time, remember:

coachcoogan@hotmail.com

or

scoogan@mail.com

I’ll be at your disposal and answer as many questions as I can ..