You Just Keep Me Hanging On: Repeat Emmy Winners among Lead Acting Nominees

All hopped up on the excitement of Emmy ballots coming out on Monday, we posed the question yesterday of whether Emmy voters’ love affairs with certain shows might be blocking other deserving winners. 30 Rock and Mad Men are great, but does rewarding them over and over “cheat” other great shows out of the prize? It’s a tricky question–maybe these shows (or their submissions) really are the best, or really do best match voters’ tastes. While voting panels change from year to year, it’s not like there are sweeping changes to the overall Academy membership across short periods of time.

Still, the numbers suggest that there’s a pretty good case to be made that logjams among series winners are creating a few victors and a block of losers. We wondered, however, whether the pattern of repeat winners would be the same for performers. There are obviously many more actors to choose from than series, and since actors submit a single episode to be judged, an especially striking performance or storyline might propel a seeming underdog to victory. At the same time, everyone can think of anecdotal evidence suggesting that some lauded actors just aren’t able to break through. Hugh Laurie and Steve Carell, for example, have both done seven seasons of their signature roles, they’ve both been nominated for performance Emmys five times for those roles…and they’ve both won exactly zero times. Could repeat wins for other actors be the explanation? Today we look at 20 years of actors in lead categories.

Lead Actor in a Drama: 25% repeat winners, 60% multiple winners

Dennis Franz, who was terrific on NYPD Blue, won four times; during those years George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Jimmy Smits, Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, and David Duchovny were nominated multiple times and never attained the prize. (You thought Jimmy Smits won one of those years, didn’t you? Me too. Like Laurie and Carell, he was nominated five times without a win.) James Gandolfini’s three wins kept Orbach, Peter Krause, and–hold me closer, tiny dancers–Martin Sheen off the podium, while James Spader’s and Bryan Cranston’s three wins apiece have pretty effectively blocked Laurie, Michael C. Hall, Gabriel Byrne, Denis Leary, and Jon Hamm.

Lead Actress in a Drama: 15% repeats, 65% multiple winners

To be fair, the annual nominations of the usual suspects in this category probably reveals a dearth of quality roles for women. But from year to year, this tends to be the same small number of women trading off the trophy. With a historic lack of good leading roles for women, is rewarding the same good stuff over and over a problem? As much as I like Angela Lansbury, for example, I can’t get that worked up over Kathy Baker’s three victories keeping Murder, She Wrote out of the winner’s circle. Still, The Edie Falco and Allison Janney Hootenanny Variety Hour (I would totally watch that) that soaked up five Emmys effectively blocked Jennifer Garner and Frances Conroy from winning for notable performances, and a second win for Glenn Close for a lesser season of Damages could have gone to someone like Holly Hunter.

Lead Actor in a Comedy: 20% repeats, a staggering 70% multiple winners

The six-year Kelsey Grammar/John Lithgow stranglehold shut out John Goodman, Gary Shandling, and even Michael J. Fox’s Spin City performance until he was forced to leave his show. (It also shut out Paul Reiser while Helen Hunt won four Emmys in a row for the same show and Jerry Seinfeld while his show was the biggest phenomenon on TV, but, like Sue Sylvester, I don’t care so much about that.) While Tony Shaloub’s Monk was certainly a great performance, his three wins came at the expense of  Matt LeBlanc, Bernie Mac, and Steve Carell, who I note again has never won for playing Michael Scott. (Alec Baldwin’s repeat win in 2009 helped with that little blockade.)

Lead Actress in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 50% multiple winners

While the 50% multiples number is a lot, there hasn’t been a repeat winner in almost a decade. The Candice Bergen/Helen Hunt (four in a row)/Patricia Heaton era, during which five women won in 12 years, meant no awards for Betty White, Delta Burke, Marion Ross, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen DeGeneres, Calista Flockhart, and Jane Kaczmarek. Since Heaton’s repeat win in 2001, however, nine different women have taken home the Emmy in this category. A sign of a sea change?

All of this is only mentioning the repeat nominees who were blocked–second, third, and fourth wins also beat out solo nominations for the likes of Ian McShane, Dylan McDermott, Matthew Fox, Kyle Chandler, Amber Tamblyn, Minnie Driver, Zach Braff, Jason Bateman, Bonnie Hunt, Marcia Cross, and Connie Britton (although we’re still hoping Chandler and Britton will become two-time nominees this year). And of course, repeats mean leaving out a laundry list of never-nominated actors too long to list here. As was true of serial series nominations and wins, there is little representation for genre stories (where is Mary McDonnell’s Emmy? Where is Nathan Fillion’s? Where is Kristen Bell’s? Where is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s?)–would requiring a winner to sit out, even a year, open up the field for unexpected nominees and maybe even winners? Would instituting such a rule have solved your favorite example of a great performance that missed out on a nomination or win?

Saturday: Ensemble shows probably make up the bulk of TV–quality and otherwise–today, and we tend to find the supporting categories the toughest to winnow down as we try to pick nominees. With so many actors to choose from, is the winners carousel even more problematic in supporting categories?

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Repeat Offenders: Consequences of Emmy Love Affairs

Ah, spring–when a TV watcher’s heart turns to Emmy consideration. Ballots come out on Monday, and since there’s nothing the Baconeers love so much as a good list (you may have noticed), said ballots whet our appetite. As much as we are sometimes frustrated with the Emmys–and oh, how frustrated we get–last year’s had some surprisingly great moments. Remember the murderous comfort food cookoff judge from the greatest Pushing Daisies episode ever? Eric Stonestreet has an Emmy now. How neat is that?  While we might gripe about who was excluded from nominations–wherefore art thou, Community and Friday Night Lights?–Modern Family and Mad Men were deserving winners. Huh. Maybe that adorable Jimmy Fallon-Glee opening just put everything in a more flattering light.

Bryan Cranston gives me pause, though. I love Cranston–I thought he was robbed of an Emmy for his Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, and his performance on Breaking Bad is a genuine tour de force. It’s certainly hard, then, to argue that he shouldn’t have won. At the same time, this was Cranston’s third win in a row, while nominees like Hugh Laurie–who, believe it or not, has never won for House–continue to languish unrewarded. While I’m not ready to ask Cranston to remove himself from contention this year (Breaking Bad‘s broadcast schedule takes care of that), it got me to wondering about how often the Emmys get “stuck” on one winner, and what repercussions that might have beyond the winner.

We looked back at the last 20 years, examining in particular three things: first, the percentage of repeat winners (winning in consecutive years for the same role or show), such as the Cranston example above. Second, we looked at the percentage of multiple winners (winning in non-consecutive years for the same role/show)–two lauded performances trading off wins across several years might block notable others from winning just as much as one repeat victor might. Third, we looked at who the other nominees were during years with repeat or multiple winners. Who is potentially being blocked from an Emmy when the Academy becomes obsessed with a single winner? If, for example, Frasier‘s multiple wins came at the expense of The Nanny, maybe that’s not a problem–maybe it’s justice.

Drama Series: 40% repeat winners; a whopping 75% multiple winners

While Mad Men has won the last three trophies, the most notable repeat winner in this category in the past 20 years was The West Wing. The show usually cited as a close second-place–or robbed, depending on your perspective–was The Sopranos…which won the Best Drama Emmy twice, so maybe things turned out just fine. In the past 13 years, however, only 6 series have won (The Practice, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Lost, 24, and Mad Men). Notable nominees during that time who never won? Six Feet Under, Deadwood, House, Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Legal, Damages, Breaking Bad, and Dexter. While I like some of those shows very much, and while I would have preferred to see some of them win in their nominated year(s) (hi, Deadwood), the repeat winners do look pretty strong.

Maybe the problem is in the nomination process: notable shows that couldn’t break the repeat stranglehold because they were never nominated include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars, and Friday Night Lights, among others. If repeat winners had to skip a year or took themselves out of contention, would genre spoilers sneak into contention?

Comedy Series: 30% repeats and 60% multiple winners

Two non-consecutive wins each for Murphy Brown and Everybody Loves Raymond (Except Me), but four consecutive wins for 30 Rock and five for Frasier (Modern Family‘s win certainly raises the question of whether Christopher Lloyd has the submission process dialed in). Frankly, I personally have more trouble with some poorly chosen one-time winners than these repeaters (Ally McBeal? Really?), but notable nominees who lost to repeaters include Scrubs and The Larry Sanders Show. On the other hand, I can’t feel that bad about Two and a Half Men.

Still, perhaps the problem is–again–in the nominating process, since Frasier and 30 Rock tended to beat the same competition over and over: Pushing Daisies, Gilmore Girls, and, perhaps most notably, The Simpsons were boxed out entirely during these repeat winner years.

Are repeat winners a problem, or just rewards for a job well done? Should the Academy attempt to spread the wealth more? What series do you think were most unfairly denied the gold by repeat winners?

Friday: But you were talking about Bryan Cranston and Hugh Laurie. Does the tendency toward repeat winners hurt individual actors more than series?

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s…look, I just want to point out how excruciatingly fair this squee makes me. It’s Jamie Bamber on the season premiere of Dollhouse tonight! You may recall that the Baconeers had…issues with Dollhouse when it premiered last year. People I trust keep telling me it got better, and I really, really want to love Joss Whedon, so I’m willing to give it another chance. And it may be clear that I had some Lee Adama issues in the Battlestar Galactica odyssey, but I chalk that up to the fact that the writers couldn’t figure out what to do with the character. Bamber was wonderful in the Horatio Horblower movies–he even held the screen against a really yummy Ioan Gruffudd–and was perfectly lovely in fare such as Cold Case and Band of Brothers. He’s even acquitted himself well as the British version of a district attorney in the new Law & Order: Picadilly Circus spin-off. Did you see what I did there? With the acquitted and the lawyer thing, and…never mind.

Come join me on my squee-filled journey of forgiveness. Dollhouse airs on Fox tonight at 9pm Eastern and Pacific.

Cherry Jones Front-Runner for 2012 Presidential Election: Emmys 2009

I’d folded this into the Andre-Braugher-Is-Fabulous-And-Will-Be-On-House post, but the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. I think I’ve figured out my problem with the Emmys–it’s that they have neither rhyme nor reason. (Perhaps that is why they used John Hodgman as an announcer, which was genius.) If we could always say, “Well, the Academy skews old, so of course they’ll take the wonderful Little Dorrit over the equally wonderful but very different Generation Kill,” we could make sense of their world. Or if it were, “Well, they’ll always take a star in another medium over someone who mostly does TV, hence Glenn Close, Toni Collette, and Cherry Jones,” we could impose some order. But when you see Kristin Chenoweth honored–HOORAY–90 seconds before Jon Cryer is also victorious–er, what?–it’s dizzying.

Much, much, much worse, however, were the omissions from the In Memorium segment. I’m sure I’m overlooking important people, too, but I can’t help but be a little miffed that they couldn’t be bothered to include Andy Hallett and Kim Manners. Particulary given that Manners was an Emmy nominee. Four different times.

Equally classy was the use of Bear McCreary’s astounding Battlestar Galactica score over the clip package on how wonderful television dramas were this year. Very few people love the BSG score more than I do, but it stings more than a little bit that this music was good enough for their broadcast but not good enough to win an Emmy. Or, you know, be nominated. I mean, it’s not like the score was written by manatees or anything, so I guess I can see why it wouldn’t be good enough to be considered for an award. 

And yet…Chenoweth. Michael Emerson was a deserving winner. Bryan Cranston’s delight will never get old (although I’m starting to feel uncomfortable for Hugh Laurie). Perhaps the most fun all night (with the exception of Hodgman) was the original song winners noting dryly that the producers probably expected a little more Justin Timberlake for their money, which makes me want them to win every year. Why can’t the Emmys make any sense?

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Michael Hogan tonight on Warehouse 13. Yes, Battlestar Galactica‘s own Cylon McOneEye…I’m sorry, Col. Saul Tigh moves from the SciFi Network to SyFy. Hogan and his wife, Susan  (a ship captain/judge on BSG), who are big, big deals in the Vancouver theater community, guest as Myka’s parents. Given Myka’s uncomfortable phone calls with her father, Hogan’s gruffness is such a good match that it makes me giggle. It will be strange to see him with two eyes again, but I imagine we’ll muddle through. You’ve seen Mr. Hogan before on fare as varied as The L Word, Monk, Millennium, Road to Avonlea…is it filmed in Vancouver? He might have been in it. His lovely partner in crime has appeared in Men in Trees, Dark Angel, Millennium…did we mention the Vancouver thing? The Warehouse 13 ep is a nice reunion with creator Jane Espenson, who also wrote for BSG. Bonus squee–Roger Rees is in the episode, too! Come on–Lord John Marbury and Saul Tigh? There wouldn’t have been any alcohol left on that battlestar. Warehouse 13 is genial fun anyway, if a little too harmless, and guests like this will go a long way toward making it top shelf fun. On SyFy (really? SyFy?) at 9pm Eastern.

Squee! It’s…

Oh, squee and a half–it’s Mary McDonnell on The Closer tonight (and for at least a few episodes beyond)! You may recall Ms. McDonnell from her Emmy-winning–OR IT HAD BETTER BE–role as President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica, in which she rocked the airlock hard. She also recently appeared as a surgeon with Asperger’s Disorder on Grey’s Anatomy. She had a multi-ep arc on both ER and E/R, as well as roles on Touched by an Angel and High Society. And that’s not even counting her Oscar-nominated turns in Dances with Wolves and Passion Fish. I’d have loved her forever even without Roslin, just for being Donnie Darko’s mom. Now she’ll take on Chief Johnson as a hard-nosed Internal Affairs investigator. Put ’em out the airlock, Captain Raydor! Tonight on TNT at 9pm Eastern and Pacific.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA at the Paley Festival: Infecting with Accountability

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While the Paley event concerning the Battlestar Galactica/Caprica universe was probably meant as a roll-out for Caprica, most of the panel discussion concerned BSG (and really, how could superfan Seth Green not ask the creators what the heck was up with Daniel when he had them captive?). Ron Moore, David Eick, Jane Espenson, and the Caprica actors were joined by Battlestar actors Tricia Helfer and Grace Park (much, it should be noted, to Green’s obvious delight). Largely due to Green’s adorable and much-appreciated geekdom (he argued that Battlestar Galactica was the best television take on societal issues since Norman Lear produced All in Family), the panel gave a lot of insight into the questions we had about the creative procesess behind BSG. It’s jazz and mosaics, folks.

We’ve reported on the Caprica-related details of the panel elsewhere,  so we’ll concentrate on the BSG love here:

  • The Paley Festival shows clips from their archives before each panel–for example, they showed a clip of the Bryan Fuller-created, Lee Pace-starring Wonderfalls before the Pushing Daisies panel–and they picked a doozy for this crew: the ending of the 1963 Outer Limits classic “Demon with a Glass Hand”. A man discovers he’s not a man at all–he’s a robot programmed to digitally preserve the remnants of his human creators. He even has a human companion who backs away from him in horror upon realizing he’s a robot! Ah, the Cylons meet their real ancestors.
  • We thought Seth Green had forgotten to turn off his phone and that it was, er, flashing through his pants, but someone on the front row was taking a lot of pictures and the flash warning reflected off the crotches of everyone who stood at the on-stage microphone. Set Condition Crotch throughout the ship!
  • Before forgetting to introduce Paula Malcomson, Green introduced Jane Espenson as his friend “Jane EsPENson”. He is likely teasing her, but now I’m worried we’ve all been mispronouncing her name for years.
  • A few people showed up in costume, but perhaps the most alarming clothing we saw was a t-shirt that read “I :heart: Fat Apollo“. It was strangely hypnotic.
  • While the writers never let go of the idea that Laura Roslin was the dying leader mentioned in the Pythian prophecies (and, yes, Green did refer specifically to the Pythian prophecies, which was about the point I started planning to bake things for him), they did eventually toss around all of the other possibilities (Starbuck, Bill Adama, the Galactica herself, etc.) before letting each of those go and returning to Laura.
  • Given that, Moore and Eick had promised Mary McDonnell she would be Moses–leading her people to the Promised Land but never being able to enter herself. In early drafts of the series finale, she dropped dead sometime before the Raptors reached New!Earth’s surface. Eick described reading a later “elegant” Moore draft that let her see her people into their new home before flying off with Bill to die, noting that “clearly the audience wanted that.” While the resulting applause could fairly be described as a smattering, this was a respectful crowd that didn’t interrupt with applause much if at all otherwise, so he may well be right. (Or maybe I just agree with him because I wanted that).
  • Speaking of sayng goodbyes on New!Earth, they felt that Bill simply couldn’t say goodbye to Lee (perhaps reflecting his own childhood goodbyes on Caprica?). Eick noted the long tradition of television dads building bridges to the future for their sons, making sacrifices for their sons, coming to emotional reconciliations with their sons…and that they didn’t want any part of that nonsense.
  • In bringing up what may have been the most debated point of the series finale, Green actually asked whether Starbuck’s final exit was just her hiding in the grass. Espenson confirmed that the grass was indeed high.
  • The writers refused, however, to be drawn into giving any more answers about what Kara was in the end, claiming that the more they answered those questions the less interesting she became. Later, in related refusals to pin down what Kara’s Head!Father was (does an angel require an angel?), it became very apparent that Moore genuinely doesn’t think it’s important to nail down some of those kinds of answers as long as the end they get to is worth more than the means they take to get there. Espenson flat out confirmed that when she noted that one of the things she likes about science fiction is that the answers aren’t nailed down and are open to interpretation.
  • For example: “Daniel: Was that just a mathematical error that got resolved?” Yes. Yes, it was. (Friend o’ Bacon D and I wondered later whether the presumed lack of connection between Lost Number Seven Daniel and Caprica‘s Daniel Graystone is an homage to Aaron Sorkin’s insistence on using that name over and over. We then decided we had perhaps had too much Diet Pepsi. The writers did note, however, that John–Cavil, One, whatever else you want to call him–is the only Cylon whose nomenclatural origin has been revealed. So maybe it really is all about Sorkin.)
  • They were not messing around having the Hybrid call Kara the harbinger of death, a label they felt they paid off with her leading them to Scorched!Earth. They didn’t elaborate enough on that for us to really make sense of it–since they’d pinned their hopes on Earth, was finding it dead the end of humanity? Was the inability to settle there and the need for a new home what cemented the alliance that eventually made us all a little bit Agathon, thus ending the Colonial version of humanity Kara knew? I…don’t know. But this wasn’t a detail that fell through the cracks–they definitely felt that the finding Earth-as-a-cinder was the payoff to that.
  • Green pointed out that since the Leoben models have spent the entire show obsessed with Kara Thrace, he wondered if the wig-out upon finding Kara’s body on Scorched!Earth was a complete breakdown or whether there was method to the madness. The writers argued that the 12 Cylon models represent the 12 basic kinds of humans, and that the Leobens represent people who love the big puzzles and the eternal questions. When Leoben’s big puzzle exploded, he just plain checked out.
  • Helfer claimed not to have understood what Head!Six was until she watched the finale. We suspect she was exaggerating slightly for effect (there was giggling involved), but that the character’s true nature was something that both evolved and was kept pretty close to the vest. Asked about playing multiple versions of the same Cylon model, both angelic and corporeal, Helfer described approaching them as twins raised separately. One of the things that made each version different was the amount of contact with humans, which is pretty interesting given the show’s overall message that Cylons and humans had to come together to find salvation. Helfer described finding that process when noting that Shelley Godfrey was written differently from Caprica Six and asking Moore if she could play them differently.
  • Helfer and Park both talked about playing mulitple versions of their models in the same scene, noting that their stand-ins knew the physicality of the characters better than day players and were really helpful in the “doubling” process. Park mentioned working against Jen Halley (who played Seelix) to film her double a few times, while James Callis liked to have one camera rolling and move back and forth between the characters (with a stand-in available for blocking). The fact that that seems Gollumesque feels right, somehow.
  • Green was jokingly, mildly, and affectionately–but noticeably–skeevy with Helfer and Park on occasion, with hugs and eyebrow-waggling announcements that he could be reached at the end of the row of chairs if they needed him. He may have answered the eternal question of whether plots or hot women are the driving force behind fanboys, however. While setting up Park to discuss making out and general hotness, Green asked whether she found it “difficult to cavort with so many leading men…Chief, Helo…” Park helpfully added, “Gaeta…”, at which point Green lost the thread of his skeeve entirely and exclaimed, “Oh! I know he’s not here tonight, but I want to talk about Alessandro Juliani.” It was…an unexpected turn of events given the previous tenor of the question. There are multiple theories on why said turn occurred, each of which could illuminate the plot vs. hotness question. The first of which, I suppose, is that Green did not in fact lose the skeeve thread at all and is in reality an equal opportunity Battlestar cast skeever.
  • The second possibility is that fanboys are actually driven by plot and Green and I share, er, strong feelings about how gorgeously the mutiny arc played out. After letting Green rhapsodize about the complexity of Gaeta’s character and ethical quandaries, Moore noted that the writers tended to give Gaeta little tidbits in scripts even when he hadn’t shown up in the story outline. Eick liked the idea of the most unexpected character being the one who turned (asking us to imagine a North Korean attack on the US led by Gary Burghoff and…no, thank you) and noted that actors really have a lot to do with characters growing like that, as creators see what actors can do for their stuff. In this case, the writers were inspired by realizing how versatile and multidimensional the actor who started out doing mostly technobabble actually was. The last little thing bothering me about that whole storyline was wondering what the producers wanted us to take from it–would they be thrilled if half the audience sympathized with Gaeta and half wanted to kill him, or did they expect everyone to fall unquestioningly in line with Bill Adama? Given Moore’s description of Gaeta as someone “who really sacrificed, really put himself out there for his beliefs,” I think we can finally put that one to bed and just acknowledge that the mutiny arc rocked. Green seemed to agree wholeheartedly with this, so score one for the Plots possibility.
  • A third theory grows from Espenson’s discussion of how much she enjoys taking secondary and tertiary characters and putting them in the center of the story, in part because no one’s a secondary character from their own perspective–they’re always the hero of their own story. Green, nodding emphatically: “Being a character actor, I agree.” So maybe what caught his eye was a secondary character swirling into the center of a huge story…where he got to make out with Grace Park, a situation in which Seth Green would not mind finding himself. I’m not sure into which category this theory falls. 
  • Moore and Eick acknowledge that the title of the upcoming prequel film The Plan is intentionally ironic, since Moore’s response to Eick’s “and they have a plan” tagline suggestion was “there is no f*#@! plan.” Given some of the accusations from disgruntled fans after the finale (we did not fall into that category, but we heard the…disgruntling) about whether too much was done on the fly, it was interesting to hear Moore and Eick talk about how the sausage is made. They were very conscious of the balancing act between doing so much planning that nothing creative can happen and being so loose that no structure is imposed. Eick praised Moore for being able to walk the line between “jazz is not allowed here” and “hey, man, let’s make it up as we go” well, noting that Moore was always able to go to a place of “this is what we were saying before, but this is what we’re saying now” that gave them both structure and freedom. Eick argues that this kind of creative back and forth took the power away from a small core of producers and spread it throughout the production, which he referred to as “infecting the staff with accountability”. He sees this as the direction television in general is going, and given the way all of the Battlestar departments raised their games so high, the fulfillment of that prophecy would be very lucky for all of us.
  • Similarly, Moore acknowledged that the identities of the Final Five were chosen late in the game, and it took a long time to decide that the CIC was the opera house, likening the process to piecing together a mosaic: “I threw this one over here and I didn’t know what it meant, but how can I make it part of the mosaic and make the picture part of the whole?” While they admitted that this approach can be risky, it also frees them from “being Dick Wolf” and being tied to real-world situations instead of the deeper meanings those situations can represent symbolically. And they clearly believe that “all that matters is what you come to in the end.” Talking about how Caprica differs from BSG, they seemed pretty committed to the idea that all you can do is try to make good work that pleases you instead of trying to please someone else, so I suspect people for whom that mosaic approach doesn’t work will never be entirely satisfied with what they produce. Those who like that jazz has an underlying structure will find their worlds exciting. 
  • However, when Green asked about all of this happening before and all of this happening again and how that mapped onto the origins of the first humans and Cylons, Moore intoned, “There once was a paradise called Kobol, and then came gay marriage.” So, you know–ripped from the headlines.
  • While Moore originally intended Tyrol’s lonely exile to be Vancouver Island, we now have confirmation that Aaron Douglas‘ reading of it as Scotland led to the unspoken joke that the still expert was off to invent Scotch. (Someone then popped off that James Callis invented the Manson Family.)
  • Speaking of good old Gaius, Green noted an intriguing connection: “Gaius Baltar looks a little bit like Ron Moore. And both look a little like Jesus. What are you trying to say here?” Moore: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Christ or me?” Apparently the camera crew was pretty convinced Baltar was actually going to turn out to be Jesus, though. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
  • Finally, Green wondered if the Centurions who left in the finale are the UFOs people report (the panel wondered if they got bored and came back to see what the crazy humanoids were up to now) and closed the evening by asking whether we didn’t wish the Cylons would come destroy this world so we could all travel through space together. While I’m generally against a robotcalypse, the Paley panel does make traveling in a tin can listening to Seth Green quiz Ron Moore, David Eick, and Jane Espenson seem like a ton o’ big fun. (Toss the mild skeeze out the airlock, though, okay?)

CAPRICA: Is This The Transylvania Station?

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The backdoor pilot for Battlestar Galactica prequel Caprica is available today at a retailer near you or your web browser, but a few hundred of us were lucky enough to see it last night at the Paley Festival in Los Angeles. Co-executive producer David Eick held a ceremonial christening of the show by pulling out a flask and doing a tequila shot on stage (he persuaded producing partner Ron Moore to do the same, and even let host Seth Green in on the swigging action, although in fairness he seemed reluctant to share quality tequila). Did this little bit of protective magic help create television magic?

I think it might have. This was a pilot, and as such has some of the weird little quirks pilots tend to have. There are some dangling questions that may or may not ever be addressed and some points where the suspension of disbelief required to get the exposition in means you’re going to have to squint a bit (a 16-year-old cracks the code of how the human brain works. Of course she does). But on this level, Caprica actually fares better than many pilots, introducing the main players with an emotional economy and setting up a world oozing with gorgeous design work and knotty problems.

Those problems might be the crux of the issue when it comes to where Caprica is going. One of the things Moore, Eick, and (the wonderful) Jane Espenson were emphatic about in the post-screening panel was the need to “destroy” Battlestar Galactica–to make Caprica its own entity (Moore even pointed out that in doing so, they expected to lose some of the BSG audience while gaining new fans). In many ways, they’re successful in doing this–the look of the show is intentionally different from BSG, saturated with light and bright colors and sparkly things (director Jeffrey Reimer of Friday Night Lights fame is freed of the faux-documentary conceit that worked so well on BSG but would be awkward here). Has Bear McCreary added a prominent English horn to his orchestra of doom?*** Have the writers actually created a Tauron language? The pilot lacks the urgency Battlestar‘s had, but that’s purposeful as well–this is both the beginning and the culmination of a decades-long decline rather than the first breathless race for survival after apocalypse. There’s obvious room to grow and explore here, and that’s exciting.

On the other hand, while I like the pilot a lot, the things I was most excited about exploring were all laced into the parent show’s mythology. The idea of BSG as a post-9/11 response to tragedy is almost canon now, but Caprica is really that idea as it played out in our society, with an opening terrorist bombing that raises questions about religion and protest and corruption. The grotesque virtual nightclub that serves both as the meeting place for the genius teenage maybe-not-terrorists and as their catalyst for wanting to clean up the world has as its descendent the icky strip club where Bill Adama and the Tighs worried about retirement. A big, juicy part of the fun is the fleshing out of the Colonial worlds, with Tauron mourning rituals and Caprican classism. I can’t stop being fascinated by the idea that no flowers grow on Tauron–why on…Caprica would you settle a planet where no flowers grow? Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that such a place grows a complicated system of organized crime instead (Esai Morales is pretty terrific juggling all of those worlds as he loses most of his own).

Caprica‘s underlying philosophical approach is straight out of the Cylon lore we’ve just spent half a decade watching, as well. Daniel Greystone’s (Eric Stoltz) attempt to reconstitute the monotheistic daughter who was killed in the bombing by recapturing the best avatar ever and downloading her into a cybernetic body just makes him Frankenstein by way of Steve Jobs, but it loops us back around to every question we ever had about the Eights and the Sixes and everyone else who downloaded–what makes a soul? Does having the ability to create and destroy life also confer the right to do so? If consciousness exists after bodies quit, what is death in the end? Caprica takes these questions head on, and it’s a lot of fun–but it’s fun they’ve been preparing us for for five years on another show, and for all they want the prequel to stand on its own, I wonder if it does–if it’s nearly as engaging without the framework already in place to build those questions on. We can’t unring that bell, of course, so it will be interesting to see if Caprica draws people new to the universe with similar levels of appeal it will have for the already-converted.

While I hope newbies will give it a try, I’m going to continue swimming around in the set-up fun. Watching Greystone download his daughter’s consciousness and then realize he’s downloading it into a Centurion induces goosebumps, but watching said Centurion’s visual scanner turn red as the robot becomes Zoe brings all of the big questions this universe engages crashing into one swirling horror show, but one that’s hard to look away from. Heck, a mean Caprican bigwig even has octogonal lenses in his glasses. I miss BSG for its world and its characters, but I also miss it for what it had to say and what it had to ask. While I wonder whether Caprica is a perfect candidate for the BBC approach we’ve mentioned before (two 13-episode seasons, maybe), I’ll be looking forward to taking another ride on the carousel.

***Edited on 04/27/2009 to add: Has Bear McCreary added an English horn to his orchestra of doom? Yes, indeedy, he has. Ha! Most excellent, as is his blog entry concerning Caprica’s new themes–check it out.

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Kate Vernon and–I’m not making this up–Ronald D. Moore on CSI: Original Flavor tonight! Apparently there’s a murder at a science-fiction convention celebrating a television classic, which makes it all the more appropriate to bring along Vernon and Moore. You recognize Kate Vernon not only as the surprisingly complicated Ellen Tigh on the recent Battlestar Galactica remake, but also from roles on Star Trek: Voyager and The Outer Limits (and if you watch some other genre, from shows as diverse as Nash Bridges, LA Law, Who’s the Boss [Ellen Tigh is!], and Falcon Crest). In addition to shepherdng the Battlestar remake to such great heights, Moore has written/executive produced shows such as Carnivale, Roswell, G vs E (I am the only person in the world who loved that show), and almost all of the modern Star Trek franchise. Fun!

Bonus geekeration: the episode is directed by Battlestar vet Michael Nankin (“Faith,” “Maelstrom,” and “Flight of the Phoenix;” he’s also directed episodes of American Gothic, Roar [!], Picket Fences, and Life Goes On) and written by BSG scribes Bradley Thompson and David Weddle (“Scattered,” “Exodus,” “Revelations;” they’ve also written for the recent Twilight Zone and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). That’s a lot of sci-fi, my friends. We’ve been tossing around the idea of going to Dragon*Con this year, but will we even need to after watching CSI? Tonight at 9pm Eastern and Pacific on CBS.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA “Daybreak, Part II”: Nothing But the Rain

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We’ve traveled with this rag-tag fugitive fleet for six years now. Four seasons, maybe, but it was six years ago we walked onto a battlestar that was ready for a rest, staffed by senior officers who needed the same and baby-faced innocents waiting for the next billet. The ride was occasionally bumpy–a “Black Market” here; a “The Woman King” there–but we also got Boomer placing a nuke in a basestar and then shooting the Old Man in the chest. We got the Tomb of Athena and the map to Earth. We got the naming of the Blackbird. We got the Galactica jumping into atmo. We got “All Along the Watchtower” and three wishes clutched in her hand. We got a Cylon-human alliance that led to a cinder. Taken as a whole, the ride was very good indeed.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that the series finale was Galactica in a nutshell. Was it perfect? Maybe not. I’m having a hard time buying several of Brother Cavil/One’s actions. While on one hand it was good to get some resolution to what Kara Thrace was, her resolution was one of the less satisfying we got in a very satisfying end. For a show that’s been so beautiful and so empowering in so many ways, we spent an awful lot of time, including punctuating a love story that spanned millennia, in a strip club. I’m not sure I’m on board the idea of splitting up humanity and sending them into a new world with no toilet paper or antibiotics. It often felt like every time a huge emotional swell hit, Lee Adama’s terrifying hair would pop up to puncture the moment. I confess to rolling my eyes at the fact that, with all the characters we’ve lost along the way, Cally is the only one we take time to remember (Cally!). And there was still a pigeon.

But I kind of don’t care, because the Galactica just rammed into the Colony! Louis Hoshi’s predicted bright future was realized (oh). Baltar and Caprica not only found home in each other again, but realized in the funniest possible way they’re both seeing angels. Maybe she couldn’t find total redemption, but Boomer made her final choice, and it was a good one. There was Ronald D. Moore reading National Geographic (Kara wasn’t Eve–Hera was! Ha!) and there were old-school Centurions fighting. We discovered that the little tidbits of Earth culture–Shakespeare, Dylan–came to us from the refugees, not the other way around. Finally, finally, the glory of the opera house was realized. Finally, finally, Laura Roslin gets to rest.

And the surface of the moon. Yes.

And there were other gifts. I said last week that I was so, so ready for the redemption of Gaius Baltar. Even when he was choosing to go on the “suicide mission,” he plowed over the feelings of his acolytes, refusing to take responsibility for what they’d created together. But in the end, when walking with his home to his home, he was like a baby bird cracking through eggshell and casting away all of the lies he’d surrounded himself with–Gaius Baltar knowing something about farming is real. It was clean, like redemption always is, clean like an almost empty green and blue planet.

There was the gift of seeing Helo come full circle, sacrificing himself just as he did the first time we met him by sending a Sharon away to save a child. For all of the things Helo saw and became, he remained completely himself. (And if we got a freebie with Helo in the end, well, hooray–he didn’t die the first time around, either.)

There was the gift of Sam taking the Galactica to her final home (I’ll bet he sees her on the other side, too)–and the extra little gift of the score playing while he did it.

And maybe those last two gifts really encapsulate this journey that has been Battlestar Galactica. We weren’t supposed to see Helo again after he gave up his seat in the miniseries Raptor, but the producers realized there was more story there. And in the end, because of that, we got the showdown between Adama and Cain, the resolution to the question of biological warfare, Athena’s murder so she could find Hera on the baseship, and the mother of all living–all because Helo lived after all. We weren’t supposed to see Sam Anders again after he handed the Arrow of Apollo back to Starbuck, but the storytellers liked him. So we got someone who stood up to the post-New Caprica Circle and who turned back the Cylon raiders and who found the Colony. All because they reconsidered throwing him away when there was so much more left to do with him.

There’s been some criticism as we’ve approached the final episodes that the creators made it up as they went along, and…yeah, they did (“Cylons were created by man…and they have a plan!” Well, no, not really.). But that flexibility is a strength, not a weakness. Was every detail perfectly tied up? Maybe not, but allowing the story to blossom and unfold gave us Helo. It gave us Sam. It gave us Laura Roslin trying to steal an election and Centurions marching through New Caprica. It boxed Lucy Lawless. It promoted Anastasia Dualla and Diana Seelix from the enlisted ranks. It took a background character like Felix Gaeta and broke him over four seasons into so many little pieces that he tried to execute the same man he saluted in the miniseries. It took a throwaway jogging cadence line from the miniseries and made it the symbol of the love between a man and his surrogate daughter. It asked us what it means to be human and what it means to have home and what it means to be family. And it warned us in the end to keep asking those questions, and not to be complacent in our prosperity. I’ll take that over having every T crossed from the very beginning any day of the week.

So I say thee yea, Ronald D. Moore. And I say thee yea, David Eick. And I say thee yea, Harvey Frand and Ron French and all the rest of the producers who broke their backs to make this. And I say thee yea, Michael Angeli and Michael Taylor and David Weddle and Bradley Thompson and Jane Espenson and Anne Cofell Saunders and Mark Verheiden and every other writer we can’t remember through our tears. I say thee yea, Michael Rymer, director extraordinaire who created the look and feel of the Galactica universe, and Michael Nankin and Robert Young and Wayne Rose and Felix Enriquez Alcala and Sergio Mimica-Gezzan and all the other directors who guided the ship. I say thee yea, Gary Hutzel and the amazing, astonishing effects team. I say thee yea, young genius Bear McCreary. I say thee yea, gaffers and grips and DoPs and costumers and make-up artists and art directors and sound engineers and stunt performers and script supervisors and editors and casting directors and craft services and everyone else who gave us these gifts.

I say thee yea, Mary McDonnell (give the woman her damn Emmy, would you?) and Eddie Olmos. And I say thee yea, Katee Sackhoff and Tricia Helfer and Grace Park. I say thee yea, James Callis and Michael Hogan and Aaron Douglas and Alessandro Juliani and Kandyse McClure. I say thee yea, Tamoh Penikett and Richard Hatch and Callum Keith Rennie and Michael Trucco and Nicki Clyne. I say thee yea, wonderful, talented, dedicated actors from parts big (Jamie Bamber!) to recurring (Leah Cairns! Donnelly Rhodes!) to small (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight! Ty Olsson! Lorena Gale! Eileen Pedde!).

The world you made for us was, as Laura Roslin would note, a very beautiful one. We are going to miss you something fierce.