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Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
Who killed The Fonz? And other TV stories
Always Be Watching is written by Dan Barrett.
Every day I get a bunch of email newsletters that I look forward to reading. Dylan Byersmedia newsletter from NBC is a good one. As is Brian Stelter’smedia newsletter at CNN. And Australia’s Mediaweek newsletter from my ol’employer James Manning.
But, I guarantee that unlike the ABW newsletter, none of those have been written while travelling at high speeds on the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan travelling Tokyo > Osaka.
I’m actually travelling a bit further than that - I’m spending 24 hours in a small town named Onomichi. The towns only real claim to fame is that it was the setting for the seminal 1953 Japanese film Tokyo Story.
Abby’s is a new sitcom that is set around a bar like the classic sitcom Cheers. Ken Levine is a TV writer who has made a name for himself on classic sitcoms like Cheers. Levine also writes a popular blog about TV and his writing of it. So, it was only a matter of time until he wrote about Abby’s. And that time is now.
There’s one big issue he has with the show, which is one of the things I also felt was a little hinky in the pilot:
But in the pilot of ABBY’S they did something that might prove to be their fatal flaw. And for all their reverence of CHEERS they seemed to miss the single most important aspect of it. CHEERS was where “everybody knows your name.” More than anything else it made the customers (and VIEWERS) welcome.
Diane Chambers enters the bar for the first time. She is clearly not the sort of person who frequents that bar. And yet, everyone made her feel at home. Diane essentially was us viewers.
In the pilot of ABBY’S we learn that new customers are not allowed to sit at the bar. They’re not even allowed to sit in chairs just off the bar. New customers are banished to hard benches along the fence and only after a certain amount of time and approval can they earn their way up the ladder. So new customers are essentially dismissed. They don’t want to know your name. It’s not CHEERS, it’s the high school lunch room where only the cool kids sat at the good table.
For a few years one of the go-to shows was Life On Mars. People LOVED the UK drama series. When it came to the US adaptation, it was a different story. The biggest problem with it, I felt, was the casting of then-it-boy Jason O’Mara. The US version of the show is only remembered for one thing, if remembered at all: its ridiculous finale. The show was quickly cancelled, but the producers were given enough time to give the show a conclusion and opted to take it in the most literal way they could: by revealing the entire show was a simulation in the brains of astronauts heading on a space mission to Mars.
Series showrunners Scott Rosenberg and Josh Applebaum spoke to Indiewire about the show and the creation of that finale, which aired ten years ago this week.
Rosenberg: So, [the year before] we had done “October Road.” And, “October Road,” which is a very different show, had had one central question, which was the paternity of this 10-year-old kid who got cancer. You couldn’t watch that whole thing on DVD and have it be a complete meal because that thing was hanging out there. Eventually, we wound up shooting like a 10-minute thing for the DVD.
So, this time, when we saw that the hangman was knocking on the door, Josh and Andre and myself, we made this conscious decision we would go to Steve. He hadn’t canceled us yet, but we said, “If you’re gonna cancel us, can you let us know?” Production was on like Episode 14 or something — we could wrap it up. So we nudged him…
Appelbaum: …and we got an answer we didn’t want. He didn’t decide because we asked but, yeah. It was kind of like, if you’re gonna cancel us, just let us know so we can wrap it up and he said, “You’re canceled.” It was like, “Oh, shit.” And then, we went into a depression for a week.
Speaking of Netflix, the company is expected to spend $1.1 billion on animation this year. That’s 11% of its annual budget.
The hope is to churn out more globally appealing series like Boss Baby, as well as to ward off growing competition from the likes of Disney, which, having ended its licensing deal with Netflix at the end of last year, is about to launch its own family entertainment streaming service, Disney+. Hulu and Amazon are also aggressively upping their spends on kids’ content.
CBS All Access has reportedly put in a bid for a new season of One Day At a Time. Netflix reportedly has the right to veto competing streaming services from picking up further seasons of the Sony-owned show. Reports are that they will exercise this right.
Then later that same day he gets a phone call with even worse news. His best friend from childhood back in Milwaukee, back when everyone called him Richie, is dead. Arthur Fonzarelli. The Fonz. Lost control of his motorcycle while crossing a bridge and plummeted into the water below. Two days of searching and still no body, no trace of his trademark leather jacket.
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