Out of the Box

Out of the Box

There may be the faint aroma of funnel cake and powdered sugar lingering in the air, but the county fair, like much of summer’s sun-soaked reverie, has packed up and moved on. Fall is on its way. In the wake of summer vacation and leading up to the hullaballoo of the holidays, fall can feel a bit like a letdown. There’s football, sure. And autumn leaves, if you live at an obliging latitude. Thank goodness for the fall network TV premiere season.

 
September is the time when TV networks traditionally roll out their new shows for viewers to love, hate or, worse, ignore. It’s been this way since the early days of television, a holdover from when radio was king. Back in the day, before there was air conditioning, cast and crew would close up shop to escape the summer heat of New York City, where most radio shows were produced. Then came the Nielsen rating system, which began taking TV ratings averages from September to May to determine advertising rates. Except for a few mid-season replacements, the traditional network TV season has stuck.  

Cable networks and streaming media platforms premiere shows all throughout the year. They’re either not beholden to Nielsen ratings as the networks are, or they enjoy breaking from tradition. They’ve already rewritten the rules by running shows commercial-free and by premiering entire seasons all at once (which NBC and Fox took a stab at this year.) It’s almost enough to make the fall TV season seem rather quaint.

So is there anything to get excited about? Thankfully, yes! There might not be one grand network premiere that has the nation holding its breath, but fall 2015 offers a lot of promise.

NBC brings us The Best Time Ever (Tuesday, 9/15), a live variety show hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. If anyone can revive and reinvent the beloved 1970s format it’s the amazing NPH. Heroes Reborn (Thursday, 9/24) is a 13-episode event that resurrects the fan favorite as well as some of its original characters. The producers of The Blacklist bring us “The Player” (Thursday, 9/24), starring Wesley Snipes and Philip Winchester, about a one-man crime-fighting machine.

 
CBS’s Limitless (Tuesday, 9/22) is based on the hit film and features Bradley Cooper reprising his film role on a recurring basis. Code Black (Wednesday, 9/30) is a gritty ER drama starring Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden.

On ABC, “The Muppets” stage their television comeback in a potentially adorable  mockumentary series (Tuesday, 9/22).

Ryan Murphy’s new FOX series, Scream Queens (Tuesday, 9/22), is a campy horror series about a murderous sorority. FOX also brings back Rob Lowe in The Grinder (Tuesday, 9/29). Lowe plays a TV lawyer who moves back to his hometown and pretends to be an actual lawyer.

Cable is offering some promising fall premieres, too. FX rolls out its Game of Thrones-ish “Bastard Executioner” (Tuesday, 9/15) from the creators of Sons of Anarchy. It’s AMC, though, that gets the ball rolling (or heads, as the case may be) with its premiere of Fear the Walking Dead (Sunday, 8/23), the eagerly anticipated series that’s a prequel to The Walking Dead which looks creepy, scary and awesome.  


Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content. Ojai resident Emily Dodi has been writing about television for more than 20 years.     

 

Out of the Box

Out of the Box

In 1999 Craig Kilborn left Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, then in its third year. His replacement, Jon Stewart, a Jewish comedian from New York, seemingly fell into the hosting position.

The Daily Show would be where Stewart stayed for the next 16 years, turning gray, growing old, and becoming more cynical under the crushing wheel of Washington politics. It would define his career. He, on the other hand, would redefine the so-called apathetic wasteland of millennial voters, transforming them into an ideological force with immeasurable voting power.

Stewart signs off for the final time tonight, offering up one last “moment of Zen” before riding into the sunset. His legacy will consist of a generation of fans raised on witty sarcasm, biting criticism and partisan jabs who have known nothing but Stewart (who is 52 years old) for a decade and a half.

It’s easy for right-leaning conservatives to dismiss Stewart. Stewart is a proud liberal, a warrior for the politically charged, obscenely frustrated youth who came to voting age in the Bush Jr. years. After President Obama’s election, Stewart and his team of writers recalibrated. While not as critical of Obama as he was of Bush, Stewart managed to find his voice, pressuring Obama on promises made during his campaign and throughout his tenure, once again the voice of the frustrated folk who, in 2008, were in their late 20s and are now pushing mid-30s.

Bush was easy for Stewart, though. Cheney, Rumsfeld (whom Stewart grilled in 2011) and Karl Rove made for easy fodder to pad the half-assed impersonations and sarcastic quips that Stewart mastered, personifying a rollercoaster of emotions with one face-palm of disappointment or fist-pump of approval.

Politicians weren’t his only targets. For a takedown of epic proportions, search CNN’s Crossfire and for Stewart’s roll in its ultimate demise. Cable news networks (Fox being his favorite target) shuddered under the scrutiny of a Daily Show takedown, often firing back in their feeble attempt at discrediting Stewart, failing to remember that, with a shrug and a smile, Stewart could make them look infantile.

For all of Stewart’s lambasting of the political circus, The Daily Show was equally incubator for up-and-coming comedians.

Stephen Colbert, who will step in for David Letterman on The Late Show this September, became a household name on The Daily Show as a correspondent and writer before he launched his own fake-news program, The Colbert Report.

Steve Carell and Ed Helms, both correspondents, went on to star in The Office and in motion pictures. John Oliver, who many believe should have been the heir to Stewart’s throne, now hosts Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO, a politically charged, spiritual successor to The Daily Show.

Rob Corddry, Mo Rocca, Olivia Munn, John Hodgman, Lewis Black, Aasif Mandvi and Larry Wilmore (who took over for Colbert), to name just a few of the dozens who now occupy space on your television or movie screen, owe debts to Stewart.

The Daily Show isn’t going away, it’s just changing. Trevor Noah, himself a former Daily Show commentator, will take over on Monday, Sept. 28, about a week after Colbert takes over for Letterman.

But saying goodbye to Stewart is going to be hard.

In November 2000, the newly elected President Bush made his first stop as victor in Midland, Texas, his hometown and mine. Later that night, Stewart expressed his disappointment, and I joined him. On Sept. 20, 2001, Stewart returned to the air for an emotional introduction, having been absent for nine days after 9/11, and I struggled to find my breath through his teary-eyed monologue. Fourteen years later, Stewart and I have been on this journey together, and certainly I’m not the only one who can say so.

Long live Jon Stewart, whose legacy includes pissing off both Victoria Beckham and Dick Cheney, providing an outlet for the politically estranged and being the winner of a multitude of rightfully deserved awards for excellence.

Jon Stewart will host his final The Daily Show tonight, Aug. 6, at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central. At 52 minutes long, it will be twice the length of a normal episode.


Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.

 


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