"The show makes the star, not the other way around." It's an old television-industry adage, one repeated nearly as often as it's ignored. No matter the shininess or popularity of a given celebrity, audiences have proved happy to shun them if the TV show constructed around them is lacking. Unlike the movie industry, which ranks actors' influence on their ability to deliver big opening weekends at the box office, TV demands a more lasting commitment. And that, in turn, demands more than a familiar name. Anybody will watch something once. The trick in television is getting them to watch again and again.
Every morning for the past three months I have watched The Best of Elmo. It's only 30 minutes long, so I usually watch it two or three times in a row. I watch it again after dinner. After 300 viewings, I now can't hear a tapping sound without humming "Happy Tapping With Elmo," and whenever I see a face, I identify the parts of it in Ernie's voice. I drink my coffee while Whoopi Goldberg explains to Elmo that she can't pull off her skin and hair and trade it for his fur, and eat my bagels to the trippy tune of "In Your Imagination." I have seen it more than any other film, television show, or commercial in my life; I have never wanted to see something 300 times, and if I did, I would not choose to watch Elmo. But I have no choice.
I see movies alone. I am happy to do so. Getting a babysitter and staring at your silent phone, waiting for it to light up in an emergency, is distracting. I have had to cut down on my movie theater quota and replace that time with the never-ending Elmo feature. I don't know what makes Elmo so seductive to people under the age of 3, but it's such a universal parent experience that you can identify your familiars at the grocery store (even when they're without their children) because they're picking up carrots and whispering "This is the song, la la la la, Elmo's Song," like they have been body-snatched and sent on a vegan zombie mission. But I forgive Elmo (and let's not confuse Elmo with Kevin Clash, the third puppeteer to provide his voice to the puppet, who faced charges of sexual abuse a year ago) for taking such a giant piece of my brain and using it to reteach me what a nose is and what a person can do if it rains and they don't have a driver's license or the ability to read and drink wine. I like Elmo (and the rest of the Sesame Street clan) because he acknowledges the adults who are in a media hostage situation.
Uh-oh, weirdos! It's Halloween! Does this news take you by surprise? Double uh-oh! I take it, then, that you haven't spent the last two weeks driving to every last secondhand store in your town, zombie dead-eyed, searching for that one elusive lapel-less pewter grey jacket that will really bring your Sloan Sabbith getup together, waiting in a line out the door at Goodwill while checking your bank account on the phone and suddenly being thrown into torturous doubt over truths you had taken for granted your whole life, so it's clear you don't understand everything that is wonderful about this cursed devil's holiday. And it's clear you could use some guidance so you don't show up at the lame house party your friends finally drag you to dressed as a mere civilian who hasn't read a blog all year.
The Emmys Are Become Death, Destroyer of In Memoriam Tributes
Alex Pappademas: I think if Cory Monteith were still alive, he'd have wanted his mom to find a way to for some reason get into an argument with the heirs of the late Jack Klugman via TMZ. But that's beside the point. I need to talk about this show's treatment not of individual deaths but of death itself. Knowing that there's an In Memoriam montage on deck has always been the thing that gets me through the slough-of-despondiest moments of even the most endless and joyless awards-show telecast. I don't even care who wins or loses. Give every award to Modern Family, even at the BET Awards. Dig up Jonas Salk and give his Presidential Medal of Freedom to Seth MacFarlane during the next Golden Globes — whatever, I don't care. Just bring out the dead. As long as I get to sit on the couch and watch my wife suddenly learn, thanks to this montage, of the often-not-recent deaths of at least five famous actors, and hear her say "[He/she] died?" with a pang of genuine sadness in her voice, I'll sit through travesties of justice and entertainment alike.
But this year's Emmy People Who Died montage reduced everyone to a black-and-white head shot, like a tribute assembled by a very bereaved dry cleaner. No clips? Not even in those very special spotlighted tributes to extra-iconic performers we're meant to feel extra-sad about, the Oneworld Elite Pass Dead People Club treatment that Jack Klugman was controversially denied, thus causing his spirit to roam the wastelands of Burbank in eternal torment forevermore?
This Sunday night on CBS, the 65th-annual Emmy Awards will celebrate the year in television excellence. Like most meth-addled Americans, I won't be watching — at least not live. Instead, I'll be tuning in to AMC to watch some truly excellent television in real time, a.k.a. the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad.
Still, many, many people will watch an Emmy ceremony that is likely to be among the most unpredictable in recent memory. (And by "many, many people" I primarily mean those of you with ready access to multiple screens, those with a lack of interest in the endgame of certain New Mexican science teachers, and/or those with an unquenchable fondness for Neil Patrick Harris production numbers). And so please consider the following as a guide to the moments to watch for — six potential upsets, shockers, and game-changers, a.k.a. the times you definitely don't want to be getting up for more guacamole. Save that for Best Actress in a Drama — unless you've forgotten the names of Claire Danes's publicist, manager, and husband over the past year. And save some guacamole for me.
Hey, we all like Mad Men, right? Last show of TV's Golden Age Mad Men? Moody, impressionistic drama about people refusing to change and shuffling apathetically toward death Mad Men? Yeah, that one! How do you feel about two more years of Mad Men? Something like "AMC, you lazy, greedy sons of tricks, what are you trying to do to us"? OK, great, glad we're still on the same page!
The cable channel announced today that Mad Men will be getting the same treatment as its other golden child, splitting up its seventh and final season into two seven-episode mini seasons. "This approach has worked well for many programs across multiple networks, and, most recently for us with Breaking Bad, which attracted nearly double the number of viewers to its second-half premiere than had watched any previous episode,” said AMC president Charlie Collier. “We are determined to bring Mad Men a similar showcase." DETERMINED! You can practically feel the premature-withdrawal shakes from here!
Kate Mara was a no-show for the Emmy announcements this morning, broadcast as they have been since time immemorial from the steerage class mess hall on Les Moonves's war yacht. Airplane trouble was to blame — the actress was reporting a story for Slugline in Arizona — but no matter, because the pre-dawn ceremony was about the only place where her House of Cards didn't make an appearance. The doomy Netflix original crashed the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards in a big way, garnering nine nominations in major categories ranging from dramatic actor (Kevin Spacey) to dramatic actress (Robin Wright) to dramatic clavicle (also Robin Wright). That means the happiest person in Hollywood this morning isn't actual Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris, whose celebrated podium charm replaced Mara at the last minute. It's Reed Hastings. This was exactly the outcome the Netflix CEO was envisioning when he outbid HBO for 24 episodes of the David Fincher–helmed Cards. Hastings knew his company needed the strong appearance of quality, if not the thing itself, in order to get attention and respect from a dubious industry. Regardless of whether Netflix actually goes home with any awards on September 22 — Jason Bateman was also nominated for Arrested Development; I have a feeling Spacey is taking the trophy — Hastings has successfully evolved his company from red envelopes to the red carpet.
That was the biggest takeaway from what felt like a transition year for the Emmys. All of the old favorites were nominated — and, in the case of Dame Maggie Smith, I mean that quite literally. 30 Rock received 13 nominations for its phenomenal final half-season and even a wheezing The Office grabbed a writing nomination for series adapter Greg Daniels's tasteful finale. The casts of Modern Family and Downton Abbey once again clogged up the ballots in the comedy and drama categories, leaving little room for fresh blood like New Girl and The Americans. While, speaking of blood, Game of Thrones (16 nominations) and American Horror Story: Asylum (17) treated the technical and miniseries categories the way Walder Frey treated guests at the Red Wedding. Boardwalk Empire was the only formerly major player to fall off the map this year (10 nominations, but mostly for hairstyling and costuming), and it's probably best to think of that not as a snub (although the second half of Season 3 did improve considerably) but as the first sign of big changes to come.
Dear Mad Men/The O.C. mash-up: Please Pinocchio yourself. Become a real boy. Give us a season of Don Draper going full Ryan Atwood, give us stoner Megan, give us not one but two Seth Cohens in Ted Chaough and Stan Rizzo. Roger can be Sandy (with a dash of Jimmy Cooper). Everyone goes to Tijuana. The path to convergent plot points has been cleared and mulched — long-distance relationships! Dissolution of wealth! A character attempting to escape his hard-luck family and humble beginnings! Welcome to SC&P, bitch.
We know Grantland — and the rest of the Internet — has been filled to the brim this week with farewells to the late, great James Gandolfini (and justly so!), but the three of us didn't want the week to go by without saying our piece about the beloved actor and the impact he had on television and film. After that we move on to the season finale of Mad Men, share our impressions of the controversial season as a whole, and debate the discreet charm of Ted Chaough. Finally, we flip channels from HBO to AMC to the Food Network, as the career of Paula Deen goes up in a racist grease fire. How much public sympathy does straight-up ignorance buy you, and where does the Food Network find these people, anyway? Plus, at least one Girls In Hoodies Billion-Dollar Idea™ involving Paula Deen and Gwyneth Paltrow. You're welcome, television.
Don Draper's childhood whorehouse home has been located in the Angelino Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, just a hop and a skip from Dodger Stadium. The 1968 scenes of the house were CGI-uglified, with apartment buildings added in on either side; the actual home looks to be in pretty good condition. In the eternity between this season and the next and final one, we'll just have to haunt the show's filming locations and hum songs of deep yearning. That's all we have now.
With Chris off on a beach somewhere enjoying a well-deserved vacation, the partners and I had to find someone to run creative in his absence. Luckily, we had an excellent candidate in house: Chuck Klosterman. Chuck was kind enough to hop on the phone and spend an outrageous amount of time discussing Mad Men with me. We covered nearly everything about this polarizing sixth season, from the dreamy premiere to the surprising finale. With a few minutes left at the end, we switched off the television and turned on the stereo, chatting about new albums from Black Sabbath and Superchunk and wondering what it means when bands give their fans exactly what's expected from them. Sterling Cooper may be in limbo, but the Hollywood Prospectus Podcast is doing just fine.
It turns out, the most important line from the Season 6 premiere of Mad Men wasn't a quote from Dante and it wasn't Roger's self-pitying spiel about doorways. It was Don's postcoital admission to Sylvia that he doesn't "want to do this anymore." But all these years on Madison Avenue have taught us that wants and needs are two very different, often contradictory impulses. And so what followed was 10 hours of the once (and future?) Dick Whitman continuing to do the very same destructive things he'd been doing, including boozing, floozing, and detonating professional and personal relationships like he was trying out for the Weathermen (though — Season 7 spoiler alert! — that particular radical organization wouldn’t form until 1969) without a modicum of happiness, joy, or desire. Mercifully, in last night's season finale, Don appeared to get what he claimed he wanted via an express elevator headed straight to the bottom. And, unlike Season 4's drunken nadir, this time there wasn't a quick fix of daily swims and emo journaling to help cushion the fall.
One of the things that makes Matthew Weiner the best writer working in television today is his refusal to sugar the pill and make life easier for his protagonists. I suppose, then, that it's admirable he did the same for his devoted audience this year. Despite some adrenaline-ass-injection highs, Mad Men Season 6 was a tough watch. And while I liked where last night left us — strangely, Don's sudden, precipitous descent hinted at a potential happy ending that I never would have predicted for him even a week ago — the road there was bumpier than a flight in Ted Chaough's Cessna. I've already written at length about my frustrations with Season 6; suffice it to say that last night felt very much of a piece with what had come before. There was history repeating itself (Pete's mother dying in the same sea his father crashed into years before), there was the impossibility of re-creating happiness (California can't be Don and Megan's happy place), there was a sports car stuck in reverse.