In the pantheon of long-expired TV properties ripe to be reinvented for the video game age, "Perfect Strangers" is not the title that instantly springs to mind. But somehow, a mini "Perfect Strangers" game has emerged and spread around the Web like wildfire.
For those who don't remember, "Perfect Strangers" was the ABC sitcom that ran from 1986 to 1993 and starred Mark Linn-Baker as a strait-laced American who finds himself roommates with his wacky foreign cousin, Balki, played by Bronson Pinchot.
Available on the site NothingsGonnaStopMeNow.com, the short game involves sharing your greatest dream and then controlling Balki, the lovable foreigner from the Mediterranean island of Mypos, as he runs and flies on a mission to collect stars to achieve that goal.
The project was created by Brooklyn-based video game designer Jason Oda. Though he works in the world of viral marketing, Oda says he did the "Perfect Strangers" game on his own. In an email he said, "It's a personal project built to help people be inspired to chase their dreams."
Using his viral marketing skills, he managed to get word on the game out through the usual social media routes, as well as the Huffington Post and Gawker.
"Those characters and that song inspire me to keep working and having hope for the future, just wanted other people to have that too," he said.
Curious '80s nostalgists overloaded the website on Thursday, leading to a server crash. But Oda expects to have it up again within a day.
Davy Jones, who died Wednesday of a heart attack at the age of 66, was, from 1965 and on and off for the rest of his life, a member of the Monkees, a pop group invented for a television show: "Davy, the little short English one," as bandmate Micky Dolenz described him in one episode of "The Monkees," which ran from 1966 to 1968 on NBC.
Designed to channel the energy of the Beatles film "A Hard Day's Night" into an American sitcom, it was at once a product of old-school show business and an emerging Hollywood counterculture, created by Bob Rafelson, who would direct "Five Easy Pieces," "The King of Marvin Gardens" and the revisionist Monkees movie, "Head" (co-written by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson), and Bert Schneider, who would produce those movies along with "Easy Rider" and "The Last Picture Show." A human cartoon whose main attraction was the self-aware naturalism of its leads, the show was of two worlds, and, to a remarkable extent, was successful in each.
Although their success was undoubtedly an influence, it is too much to class the Monkees with such subsequent whole-cloth pop creations as the Archies, the Banana Splits, Josie & the Pussycats, the Partridge Family and, some would say, the Spice Girls -- though it is clearly the model on which Nickelodeon's successful, and not bad at all, "Big Time Rush" is based. Pop has always had its industrial wing. The band was itself split between, as it were, the raw and the cooked. Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were Sunset Strip cowboys who came to the project as musicians looking for a break; Jones and Dolenz were actors. Dolenz had already starred in his own TV series, "Circus Boy," and Jones had been in the business since the age of 11; he'd worked on British television before taking over the role of the Artful Dodger in the musical "Oliver!" on the London stage. He coincidentally appeared with its Broadway cast on "The Ed Sullivan Show" the night the Beatles made their American television debut there, in February 1964.
When "The Monkees" went into pre-production, Jones was already signed to Screen Gems, the TV arm of Columbia Pictures, which produced the series, and recording for its record label, Colpix, a multimedia strategy that was not uncommon then and is standard practice now, in the post-Miley Cyrus world of tween television. Still, in the world the Beatles remade, it had become newly important for musicians to write the songs they sang, and to play the instruments on their records, and to be the people they seemed to say they were.
The question of whether the Monkees were a "real" band -- a false question, the history of pop repeatedly shows -- dogged them from the beginning; indeed, it was an issue between the group and their bosses, and within the group itself. (They came to actual blows at times over their meaning and direction; but such disunity is something they share with every band that ever was.) It has been enough to some to keep them out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and yet to the many more who watched their show, bought their records and, as late as last year, attended their concerts, it is entirely beside the point.
In Beatle terms, Jones was the Paul, the cute one, the one who sang the pretty melodies and let his music-hall roots show; he could dance, as well as sing. ("I Wanna Be Free," "Daydream Believer," "Valleri," "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," and the Harry Nilsson-penned "Cuddly Toy" were among the songs on which he took the lead.) His Englishness, at a time when pop consciousness was dominated by the Fab Four -- many young American musicians who would have considered themselves authentic to the core strove to sound as if they were just off the boat from Britain -- gave the Monkees a kind of Limey cred.
That he was short -- at 5-foot-3, he had apprenticed as a jockey -- just made him a more comfortable fit for the daydreams of the little girls who bought Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine and pasted his picture on their walls or in their scrapbooks; he was a pre-teen idol, and the series' designated romantic lead. (If in Marx Brothers terms -- the other great influence on "The Monkees" -- this made him Zeppo, he also got his fair share of comedy to play.)
Still, becoming famous as a version of yourself is a hard legacy to escape. As a performer in subsequent years, Jones was often asked to play Jones: Once a Monkee, always a Monkee. Did this bother him? I don't know. But when there was Monkee business to do, he always showed up smiling.
[For the record, 6:50 p.m. Feb. 29: An earlier version of this post incorrectly credited Davy Jones with creating the role of the Artful Dodger on the London stage. Martin Horsey was first to play the part, which Jones later took over.]
"The Simpsons" aired its 500th episode Sunday, in which America's brightest yellow household was cast out of their home town of Springfield, only for the rest of Springfield to follow them to their new life off the grid (bringing the grid with them).
The broadcast included a cameo from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange — really, it did — and a "couch gag" (the bit at the end of the credits where the family sits down to watch TV) cut together in rapid-fire form from all preceding couch gags.
A week earlier, I sat down with "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening for an interview that ran in Sunday's Sunday Calendar. What follows is more of our conversation than that article could hold.
On Valentine's Day you're getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In my previous life working for the Los Angeles Reader, I used to type up the calendar section, and any time any celebrity would get a star on Hollywood Boulevard I would type up the press release. But as an investigative journalist I would actually drive to the address where the star was going to be, and I would note what store it was in front of and write, say, "Curly Joe DeRita is receiving his star in front of the Pussycat Theater," or whatever it was — Joe's Bong Shop. And I remember getting calls saying, "Please don't. Please don't put what stores are at these addresses."
Years later "The Simpsons" got a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and that was a lot of fun, and last year I got a call from someone in Fox Publicity saying they want to give me a star and I said OK, because of the absurdity of it. I've been haunted since college by the book "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America" by Daniel J. Boorstin." It was written in 1962, and it's analysis of fake media events, and this I would consider a fake event. But Paul McCartney did it, on Thursday. It'll be fun.
It can't be something you imagined when you first came to Hollywood.
I did not. That's why I did it. I tell myself to carefully consider things that are unique opportunities. One of the "Simpsons" writers was giving me a little bit of a hard time about it because "The Simpsons" already has a star. I said that the star was for "Life in Hell" [Groening's angsty comic strip, which led via one thing and another to "The Simpsons"].
"2 Broke Girls" is one of the few new huge successes of the TV season, and its stars and executive producers had hoped to celebrate its popularity Wednesday during CBS' portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour.
But a session to promote the series deteriorated into an uncomfortable and messy clash between reporters and executive producer Michael Patrick King, who grew agitated with repeated questions about the continuing controversy concerning the show's lone Asian character, the owner of a diner who speaks in broken English.
Even though King had been expecting questions about the character Han Lee (Matthew Moy) since it has been an issue since the series premiered, he became increasingly defensive as the session wore on, making what amounted to a flat joke about the Irish heritage and sexual orientation of one reporter who continued to press him about whether CBS had asked him to make Han more dimensional and tone down his ethnicity.
The producer's combative demeanor ultimately cast a sour note over what should have been an upbeat session.
It's not the first time King has faced criticism over race. He was the creator of "Sex and the City," which was set in New York City but seldom featured principal characters of color. The only nonwhite character in the first movie spinoff of the series was an assistant to Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) played by Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson.
King initially tried to downplay the controversy over "2 Broke Girls," saying that while the show's humor may be edgy it was also full of heart. He said CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler had called the show "an equal opportunity offender," and the show comically deals with stereotypes, particularly of the title characters (played by Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs) who are respectively brunet and blond.
When the subject kept returning to Han Lee, King grew increasingly contentious. "I like Han and the fact that he's an immigrant," King said, adding that he didn't find the character offensive. King added that because he is gay — and a comedy writer — it gave him permission to poke fun at other "outsiders."
And even though King maintained that he had received no instructions from the network about toning down Han's more stereotypical characteristics, he noted that the last three episodes had not made any Asian jokes — only jokes about the character's shortness.
King repeated that he was proud of the "creativity and hilarity of what we do," and expressed surprise that there were fewer questions about that aspect of the show. But with his defensiveness, King and his prickly tone took the attention away from his show.
Melissa McCarthy of "Mike and Molly" and the Showtime drama "Homeland" were among the huge raves of the TV season, but both were surprisingly among the missing when the TV nominees for the 18th Screen Actors Guild Awards were announced.
McCarthy scored an upset in September when she won an Emmy for lead actress in a comedy series for the CBS sitcom, but on Wednesday she was left out of SAG Awards' outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series category (though she did get a movie nod for "Bridesmaids"). Those nominees include Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara ("Modern Family"), Edie Falco ("Nurse Jackie"), Tina Fey ("30 Rock") and Betty White ("Hot in Cleveland").
Other prominent actresses that were omitted included Amy Poehler ("Parks and Recreation"), Zooey Deschanel ("New Girl"), Laura Linney ("The Big C"), Laura Dern ("Enlightened") and Christina Applegate ("Up All Night").
Meanwhile, Ed O'Neill and Jesse Tyler Ferguson were the only adult cast members of "Modern Family" who did not score an individual SAG nod. In addition to Bowen's and Vergara's nods, Eric Stonestreet and Ty Burrell were nominated for outstanding performance by a male actor in a comedy series. O'Neill and Ferguson were included in the comedy ensemble nomination for "Modern Family."
Also missing among major actors in the comedy categories were Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory"), Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother") and Louis C.K. ("Louie").
"Homeland," starring Claire Danes ("Temple Grandin"), Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin, has been one of the critical highlights of the season, but the show and its performers were left out of the nominations.
A major surprise in the drama category was the nomination of Patrick J. Adams in USA's "Suits." Lewis beat out more well-known performers, such as Hugh Laurie ("House") and Kelsey Grammer ("Boss").
Who do you think should have been nominated? Vote in the poll below or let us know in the comments.
"Two and a Half Men" may have hit record ratings with Ashton Kutcher this week, but fans of his predecessor aren't about to extend a winning welcome to the CBS sitcom's new star.
"Boring," wrote one commenter on Show Tracker, reflecting the views of a vast majority, at least online. "Bring Charlie back."
"Kutcher couldn't deliver a joke if it were gift-wrapped," sniped another.
Kutcher replaced Sheen on the No. 1-ranked comedy after Sheen's well-publicized drug battles and verbal attacks on his bosses led to his firing earlier this year. Kutcher plays Walden Schmidt, a lonely tech billionaire.
Some professional TV critics were kinder, if not exactly effusive. The Los Angeles Times' Robert Lloyd wrote that the premiere was "promising," adding: "Kutcher brings a softness as well as a sense of rude health –- he was naked for much of the show –- to a series that could often be brittle and sour, misanthropic and misogynistic, and temperamentally middle-aged."
But Kutcher has his work cut out for him with Sheen fans, who have already initiated the inevitable backlash.
"Chemistry counts," wrote another commenter. "They had it with Charlie, and I don't see it with Ashton. ... Sorry to say it, but Charlie may be winning after all."
With Michael Patrick King, all roads lead back to “Sex and the City.”
When the writer/producer/director appeared before reporters Wednesday at the Television Critics Assn. media tour at the Beverly Hilton to promote his new show, “2 Broke Girls,” it was hard to escape the legacy of the HBO comedy.
Co-creator Whitney Cummings spoke of its influence on her in her stand-up comedy acts. And “2 Broke Girls” star Kat Dennings pointed out that she actually broke into television on “Sex and the City,” playing a girl who hires Samantha to do publicity for her Bat Mitzvah -- impressive considering she was a “home schooled kid living in the forest” who had to get cable just to watch the episode.
All the gushing aside, King warns against expecting his new CBS comedy to be a slimmed-down, younger version of ‘Sex and the City.”
“That show and this show is completely different DNA,” King said. “The girls from ‘Sex and the City’ had relationship check lists; these girls barely have checks.” He added that he and Cummings liked the “really scary dynamic of talking about money on TV,” a topic usually glossed over or ignored -- kind of like Carrie Bradshaw’s ability to afford designer duds and spiffy apartment on a columnist’s salary.
Rather, "2 Broke Girls" centers on bristly, hard-working Max (Dennings) who finds herself working with the suddenly broke, trust-fund baby Caroline (Beth Behrs) at a diner. After getting off to a rough start, the two eventually become pals who move in together. The series makes its debut on Sept. 19 with "Two and a Half Men" as a lead-in before settling into its regular time slot on Mondays at 8:30 p.m.
That's good and all, but back to that other show: What about rumors a prequel flick to “Sex and the City” was in the works to accompany Candace Bushnell’s novels that look at Bradshaw and gals way back when.
“I’m not working on any ‘Sex and the City’ prequel at all,” King said. “My Carrie Bradshaw started at 33, and I took her to 43. For me, the idea of going backwards and making her less evolved … is something that I don’t even imagine doing. I have no connection to the prequel.”
Just weeks after Roseanne Barr gave a blow-by-blow account of why her sitcom "Roseanne" was doomed -- among the reasons she cited were blatant sexism and lack of creative control -- one sitcom writer is firing back.
On Monday, Ken Levine ("Cheers," "MASH") criticized Barr on his blog for playing the victim, as well as for her eagerness to brand male writers as misogynists. (In her screed, Roseanne had written, "Male writers have zero interest in being nice to women, including their own assistants, few of whom are ever promoted to the rank of 'writer,' even though they do all the work while the guys sit on their asses taking the credit.")
Though Levine admitted that he has never worked with Barr, and casually knows her archenemy, former "Roseanne" scribe Matt Williams, he insisted that she was a nightmare to work with. "Since there was so much turnover in the writing staff and she had no desire to learn anyone's names, she made them each wear numbers around their necks during runthroughs," he claimed, though he didn't say where this information came from. "I've always believed that fame and money and power just make you more of what you really are," Levine wrote. "And if that's the case, than Roseanne is a monster."
Of course, the "monster" had a few words to say about that. "This guy and every one of his commenters loathe women," Barr reponded on her blog, adding, "I am pretty sure that women who have worked for [Ken Levine] in the past (if indeed there were ANY) worked in a hostile work environment. Let me know, women writers out there -- how were you treated on Ken Levine's staff?"
No one from Levine's staff answered Barr's question in her comments, but Levine invited three of them to respond on his own blog. Their verdict? Ken Levine is not a sexist -- sorta. "The most sexist thing he ever did was blather on about baseball with the other men in the room despite the fact that I was visibly bored," wrote Robin Schiff, who worked with Levine on the '90s sitcom "Almost Perfect." "Hardly grounds for a lynching."
And yet, Schiff didn't disagree with Barr that TV can be a sexist industry: "Women comprise only 28% of working writers. We still make less money than men. All you have to do is look at the writers onstage accepting Emmys for late-night talk shows and sitcoms to see that women comedy writers are on the endangered list."
Who's in the wrong here: Barr, for using the s-word (sexist) and using it to brand a man she's never worked with, or Levine, for using the m-word (monster) on a woman he's never met? We await your response in our sure-to-get-heated comments section below.
In unveiling ABC's fall prime-time schedule, the network's new entertainment president, Paul Lee, played keys of affection to describe his slate of 13 new shows, calling them: "super cool," "a power bloc of drama" and "pure candy."
But one more practical word stood out: balance.
"What we have tried to do is get a nice balance -- stability for our established hits and real ambition for our new shows," Lee said Tuesday morning during a news conference at ABC's New York headquarters, a few hours before he was scheduled to take the stage to pitch his schedule to hundreds of advertisers and influential advertising buyers.
Finding a balance has been something that has eluded the Walt Disney Co.-owned network in recent years. After soaring to great heights six years ago with such blockbuster dramas as "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives," and "Lost," ABC stumbled in its search for strong replacement dramas that appeal to both men and women.
Instead, the network has achieved ratings success with "Dancing with the Stars" and the breakout comedy "Modern Family," and has made more modest gains with "The Middle," "Castle" and "Body of Proof," starring Dana Delany as a medical examiner.
But advertisers have grumbled that the network, which will finish the current season in third place, was becoming a bit too female-centric. Nearly 65% of ABC's prime-time audience are women.
So now, similar to the middle-aged vixens of "Desperate Housewives," fetching the men has become something of a priority for Lee. The 50-year-old British executive, who transformed Disney's ABC Family cable channel, was picked last summer to run ABC Entertainment following the abrupt departure of former network programmer Stephen McPherson.
"The Game," the comedy about the women involved with the players on a fictional San Diego football team, was a loser when it aired on the CW. The ratings-challeged comedy failed to expand its viewership beyond a devoted fan base and was canceled in 2009.
But a revival this month of "The Game" with the original cast has been a big-time winner for Black Entertainment Television, the urban-oriented cable network that has been criticized since its launch in 1980 by critics who said it perpetuated negative black images and fell way short of being an all-inclusive venue for contemporary African American culture.
More significantly, "The Game," along with its companion romantic comedy "Let's Stay Together," has been a game-changer for BET, ushering in a new positive era for the network after years of controversy and setbacks. Executives say they are capitalizing on the success of the two comedies, using them as a launch pad to develop several more scripted series.
The 2011 Press Tour headquartered in Pasadena went off campus Tuesday, traveling to studios and sets to give reporters an up-close look at the shows they cover. The morning festivities were highlighted by a visit to 20th Century Fox Studios, where the scribes were treated to two distinct panels featuring "the funny men and women of 20th Century Fox," featuring cast members from several hit comedies, including "Modern Family," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Glee."
Jason Segel of "How I Met Your Mother" looked a bit concerned when he first gazed out on the sparse audience in Fox's Little Theatre gathered for his "Funny Men" panel.
"This looks like the opening night of 'Gulliver's Travels,' " said Segel, referring to the recent Jack Black flop. It wasn't a cheap shot — Segel was one of the stars.
The theater eventually filled up — the bus ferrying reporters from Pasadena was late — and Segel and his fellow panelists discussed the business of being funny.
Ty Burrell, who plays Phil Dunphy on "Modern Family," gave enormous credit to the show's writers, who channel some of their experiences to characters on the series: "We constantly pray for catastrophes on our writers' lives."
Lucas Neff downplayed some of the difficulties he has working with a baby in "Raising Hope," the Fox comedy in which he plays a young single father of an infant: "Babies are really truthful. They never break character. And you can't blame them. So it helps with learning how to be patient."
The panelists kept referring to the current popularity of TV comedies, arriving only a few years after many in the industry speculated that comedy was dead. Said Segel: "The pendulum swung too far the other way on reality TV. Eventually people got tired of it. They wanted to watch something nice, that could make you laugh in a calm world at the end of the day."
Other panelists included Jesse Tyler Ferguson ("Modern Family"), Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother") and Mattew Morrison and Chris Colfer ("Glee").
Said Colfer: "I'm not funny. I'm not sure why I'm here."
When the stage was turned over to the female performers, much of the discussion centered on the changing role of women. Julie Bowen ("Modern Family") said she was often cast as girlfriends whose main attribute revolved around her sexuality. Now women in comedies have more complex and dimensional roles in which they are involved in the humor rather than just reacting to it.
Added Lea Michele of "Glee:" "There are fresh rules. You can be beautiful and funny too."
The panelists included Alyson Hannigan ("How I Met Your Mother") and Martha Plimpton ("Raising Hope").
A slight buzz erupted when Jane Lynch ("Glee") was asked about recent comments attributed to Ed O'Neill ("Modern Family") that his TV wife, Sofia Vergara, should have won last year's Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy instead of Lynch. O'Neill later said his comments were taken out of context and apologized to Lynch.
"I love Ed," said Lynch, who sat next to Vergara on the panel. She said the fracas was stirred up by the media. "That was you guys, not us."
[Updated, 8:30 p.m.: A previous version of this post misspelled Jason Segel's name as Segal.]
— Greg Braxton
Photo: Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell of "Modern Family." Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC
Much of the preview section in this Sunday's paper is dedicated to new shows. Joe Flint profiles Holt McCallany, who stars as a washed-up boxer stuck between two New Jersey worlds -- the gritty Bayonne neighborhood of his youth and professional life and the cushy Far Hills mansion he lives in with his wife and three daughters -- in FX's new drama "Lights Out."