Tuesday, November 29, 2011



It’s that time of year again – the holidays. A time when many people go crazy trying to find that perfect gift for a relative or friend. If that friend or relative is a TV buff, there are myriad TV-related gifts available that are sure to brighten his/or her holiday season.

Here’s a list some of my favorites, DVDs and games, several of which are in my personal collection. For purchasing, check local retailers, bookstores and Internet retailers. Also check TV network sites, most of them have “company” stores that sell products related to their series.

Let’s start with TV DVDs. Boxed sets of complete series or individual seasons of shows are readily available.

“Rome.” (Two seasons)
This series ran for two seasons from 2005-2007 on HBO and followed the lives of two Roman soldiers who became involved in the historical events of ancient Rome, starting in 52 B.C. The cast includes Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Polly Walker, Lindsay Duncan and James Purefoy. This is a great gift because it’s part history lesson and part soap opera as lives and loves are intertwined with scheming, murder, vengeance and politics. It’s a must and is on my shelf.

“The Mentalist,” the complete Third Season.
From ancient Rome to modern-day California, this hit CBS drama stars Simon Baker as a fake psychic obsessed with finding Red John, the man who killed his family. Baker’s Patrick Jane goes about his mission to find the killer while working as a consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation on cases. If you are not familiar with “The Mentalist,” this 24-episode set is a good place to jump in and catch up, as Jane gets closer to tracking down Red John. As with most boxed sets, this one includes some unaired scenes and other features. The cast includes Robin Tunney, Tim Kang, Owain Yeoman and Amanda Righetti.

“Chuck,” the complete Fourth Season. This is the little series that could. Every spring it has been on the verge of cancellation by NBC, but yet has managed to make it through four full seasons and now is in its fifth and final season of 13 episodes on the Peacock network. In a nutshell, Chuck Bartowski is a computer nerd who accidentally unloaded national secrets into his brain. When the government got wind of what he had done, they sent two super spies to protect him. Over the years the trio – Chuck, and his protectors Sarah and Colonel Case,y have traveled the globe to protect the country from the bad guys. The 24-episode fourth season finds Chuck trying to reunite his family and figure out how to propose to Sarah. Included are deleted scenes and a gag reel. Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin head the cast.

“Prime Suspect,” the Complete Collection
. This wonderful police drama starring Helen Mirren is likely never to be duplicated again on television. Mirren’s portrayal of the driven, flawed and troubled Detective Jane Tennison won her an Emmy Award, and the series took home Emmys and a Peabody Award. First airing in 1992 on PBS’ “Mystery!” series, the drama continued for six more seasons, ending in 2006. Created by crime writer Lynda LaPlante, “Prime Suspect” featured many top British actors as guest stars over its run, including Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Bell and Jonny Lee Miller. The boxed set includes a behind the scenes special, photos and cast filmographies. This is a must have for any collector.

“Absolutely Fabulous, Absolutely Everything,” the Complete Collection. When it comes to comedy, this wonderful British series is the top of the top. Well, actually, it’s way over the top. Edina, a London PR agent, and her best friend Patsy, a fashion magazine editor, drink, smoke and carouse through life in a series of hilarious adventures that are side-splittingly funny. Eddy and Pats will try and do anything to recapture their youthful days in 1960s swinging, mod London. Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley star in the series written by Saunders. This nine-disc set includes outtakes, the pilot episode and photo galleries.

“Pride and Prejudice,” 10th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition. Jane Austen’s romantic classic that first aired on the A&E Network in the mid-1990s put the spotlight on two young actors who would later become stars – Colin Firth (Oscar winner) and Jennifer Ehle (Tony Award winner). Set in 19th century Georgian England, strong-willed Elizabeth Bennet has to make an advantageous marriage – she has five younger unmarried sisters. But she is opposed to marriage for the sake of marriage — she wants to marry for love. Enter the inscrutable Mr. Darcy, a friend of the Bennets’ new neighbor and a man Elizabeth initially despises. It takes awhile, but Elizabeth comes to realize Darcy is the man for her — but does he feel the same way? Watch and find out (as if you already don’t know!). This three-disc set includes the entire series, plus a bonus disc that goes behind the scenes of the making of the series as well as cast biographies. This is just the DVD to watch on a chilly winter’s night with a cup of tea in hand.

For those of you interested in playing board games tied to TV series, here are a couple of the more interesting ones based on hit series.

“24,” DVD board game.
This game includes a DVD, game board, movers, cards and instructions. Based on the Emmy-winning Fox series, players are agents and they collect clues to try to prevent an attack by terrorists. The DVD provides clues to players, some true, some false, and players must figure out which ones are legitimate as the DVD timer runs down. Series star Kiefer Sutherland narrates.

“Modern Family Game.” The ABC series “Modern Family” has won two straight Emmy awards as Best Comedy series and is a hit with viewers. So naturally there is a board game based on the series and involving its three related families. The game, for two to six players, is a test of your knowledge of the series and its trivia. Included are game board, game cards, answer pad, dice, game tokens and rules. The first player to visit each household and get back to their TV viewing couch wins.

“NCIS,” The Game
. CBS’ top rated series gets the board game treatment for one to six players. Players visit the scene of the crime, take statements and check into headquarters. Plot twists may or may not occur. Players, as a group, must decide who to arrest. If deadlocked, the player who is Agent Gibbs decides. The game includes a board, game cards, crime scene cards, movers, clue manuals and rules.

Donna J. Plesh is a veteran television writer and reviewer who also writes stories that may be viewed at www.thecolumnists.com

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Networks' Fall TV At Midseason: Half-Hour Comedies One Bright Light


It’s nearly December and we are beginning the third month of the fall 2011 TV season. So, how are things going for the new shows ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW premiered in September? Well, I would say so-so and if I was giving a letter grade to the shows it would be a B-.

The one bright light has been the re-emergence of half-hour comedies that, unlike previous seasons (anyone remember the dreadful NBC version of the Brit comedy hit “Coupling” a few seasons back?) viewers are watching them every week as indicated by their ratings.

In addition, women headline four of these comedies. Yes, folks, women. Not like in the comedy series heydays of the 1980s and 1990s when Ted Danson, Bill Cosby and Kelsey Grammer were the marquee names on hit series. This season some relative unknowns (at least to most TV viewers) are fronting what can be considered, at this point, hit new series: Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs and Zooey Deschanel. Dennings and Behrs are the stars of “2 Broke Girls” on CBS Mondays, and Zooey Deschanel headlines the cast of “New Girl” on Fox Tuesday nights. Both series have gotten full-season pickups.

A third series, “Whitney,” airing Thursday nights on NBC and starring Whitney Cummings (also the co-creator of “2 Broke Girls”) has not gotten great ratings but still received a full season pickup from the network. A fourth comedy featuring female leads, “I Hate My Teenage Daughter,” premieres Nov. 30 on Fox. Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran star.

Tim Allen’s return to series comedy with ABC’s “Last Man Standing” on Tuesday nights has received a full season pickup, as has the network’s freshman life-in-the-suburbs-can-be-hell “Suburgatory” airing as part of the network’s Wednesday night comedy block. Also, NBC has given a full season order to the Wednesday night parenthood comedy “Up all Night.”

What needs to be remembered for all new series is the impact of fall sports events on the weekly Nielsen ratings. NBC airs Sunday night football and ESPN has Monday night football which, if impact games are airing, means more eyes will be on the games than the shows on the networks. Also, baseball playoffs and the World Series telecasts drew more eyes away from new network fare.

So the new comedies are doing pretty well. But how about dramas? So-so. But it looks like the fairy-tale themed “Grimm” on NBC Friday nights and “Once Upon a Time” on ABC Sunday nights have caught the fancy of viewers. When it comes to more standard drama fare – police procedurals – CBS’ “Unforgettable” on Tuesday nights is the clear winner. Often winding up in the Nielsen Top 20. On the other hand, NBC’s much publicized “Prime Suspect,” despite multiple weeknight airings one recent week, is not doing well in the ratings. In its regular 10 p.m. Thursday time period it comes in a distant third behind CBS’ “The Mentalist” and ABC’s “Private Practice.” In last week’s Nielsen ratings for the week of Nov. 14-20, “Prime Suspect” was ranked 79, not a good spot for a show hoping for a full-season pickup.
CBS has already given a full season pickup to the Thursday night thriller “Person of Interest,” but the jury is still out on ABC’s Sunday night 1960s throwback series “Pan Am.” The network has ordered more scripts for “Pan Am,” but has yet to commit to giving it a full season. Such is not the case for ABC’s Wednesday night hit “Revenge.” The soap-opera like drama has already received a full season pickup.

Then there is CBS’ “A Gifted Man,” airing Friday nights at 8 p.m. So far this drama about a brilliant surgeon getting life lessons from his dead wife is hard pressed to climb out of the 40s of the Nielsen ratings.

Granted Friday nights are no longer must-see or must watch TV nights, but CBS’s second season “Blue Bloods” seems to have bucked the trend and last week was ranked 13th in the most recent Nielsens. Or maybe it’s because “Blue Bloods” stars long time TV favorite Tom Selleck?

Then there is “The X Factor” music competition show airing on Fox Wednesday and Thursday nights. The show may not be attracting as many eyeballs as Simon Cowell predicted last summer, but is still doing respectably well in the Nielsens (23 and 33) and has been given a full season pickup by the network.

And what about “Terra Nova” on Fox Monday nights? The series about an ordinary family transported back to and living in prehistoric times, is a go until at least December, when it ends its run of 13-hour episodes. Will it be back for a second season? Who knows? It’s very expensive to produce and its ratings (47 in the most recent Nielsens) have not been great.

Over on The CW the network had given full-season pickups for freshmen series “The Secret Circle,” “Ringer” (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in her return to prime time) and “Hart of Dixie.” The latter, a fish-out-of-water light-hearted drama starring Rachel Bilson as a big city doctor in a small Alabama town, is one of the nice surprises of the season. Though it is not a Nielsen Top 20 show, it still has struck a chord with many viewers who seem to like the slower pace and inherent sweetness of the show.

All things considered, this fall season’s new shows have done better than those of the fall season 2010 shows. Granted there have been some missteps – but enough has already been said and written about the late (and not lamented) “Playboy Club,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Free Agents” and “How to Be a Gentleman.” Soon, if there is any justice, to be joined by “Man Up” on the scrap heap.

Donna J. Plesh is a veteran television writer and reviewer whose stories may also be viewed at www.thecolumnists.com