Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Daily Trojan: Four steps to take you to a television utopia

By Philiana Ng

Since the fall season officially started last Monday, I got to thinking: Was there a formula someone came up with that consistently produced successful television shows? Sadly, as I sat on the couch scribbling Venn diagrams and long, complicated outlines, nothing was clicking or making sense. That is, until I decided to take the reins and create my own pseudo-formula for anyone interested in trying their hands in the ultracompetitive television industry.

Starting a new venture is never easy, especially when you're competing against dozens of creative minds to nab that coveted one-hour slot on Thursday nights. But let's pretend we live in a perfect world; if we did, this would be an easy four-step program. All you have to do is start at No. 1.

1. Embrace your inner nerd.

Right now, there are the "CSIs" and the "Law & Orders" for the crime procedural junkies. For the medical mystery addicts "Grey's Anatomy" and "House" fill that weekly void. "Chuck" is a love letter to the geeks who work at big box stores (or those who just want to be with one), while "Gossip Girl" brings the drama-seeking fashionistas to their knees. What these shows all have in common is simple: They all appeal to your inner alter ego, the one that's hidden deep inside and only comes out once in a blue moon.

Viewers have been leaning toward the weird and the awkward, abandoning formulaic mega hits (cue "Desperate Housewives" four years ago) that used to be ratings smashers and giving way to niche programming. If there is a channel that exclusively airs shows with sci-fi, alternate universe themes and places where only the mature reign and the faint of heart rarely stop by for a visit, chances are, whatever those inner selves desire, someone else in the world wants it, too.

If an entire universe centered on a talking car and its human counterpart can become a culture icon and phenomenon, then anything must be possible.

2. Make friends with the USA Network.

Broadcast networks have another competitor on their hands, and oftentimes many of them are owned by the same umbrella company: cable. One network has proven to be miles ahead of the rest, the USA Network, which is also owned by NBC's parent company, NBC Universal. Granted, a fantastic day for USA would be the equivalent of a flop in broadcast terms, but with the network's ability to craft a memorable slogan ("Characters Welcome") and follow it up with original programming that each have their own crop of loyal watchers has catapulted USA to the top spot among cable networks in total viewers, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

USA's "In Plain Sight," a new series that premiered this summer, became the year's most-watched cable program to date. And while USA largely relies on reruns, sports broadcasts and multiple movie airings for its daily programming, The Hollywood Reporter reported that five of the network's scripted original series consistently rank in the top seven for total cable viewers.

3. Call up the "Battlestar Galactica" crew.

A cast is one of the most essential puzzle pieces, if not the most important. Without one, there wouldn't be a show to watch or characters to invest in. Without the perfect lead or an adaptable supporting cast, the faux chemistry can only last so long before the show is gone forever, down the dreaded cancellation chamber.

As the "Battlestar Galactica" era winds down on the Sci-Fi Channel, the show's ensemble cast has become the industry's very own go-to actors and actresses - and deservedly so. Tricia Helfer (Number Six) has a recurring role as a mysterious handler on USA's "Burn Notice," Jamie Bamber (Apollo) is leading a British version of "Law & Order: U.K.," Grace Park (Boomer/Athena) plays a supporting role in "The Cleaner" and Tahmoh Penikett (Helo) has a major role in Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse." While the Sci-Fi remake is heavy on the melodrama and light on everything else, its seasoned cast is well equipped to cover a wide range of acting styles.

4. Nab some notable guest stars.

While the cast might be absolute perfection, the network has proven to be a nice fit and the show's premise is both original and entertaining, making a few phone calls for some new blood isn't a bad idea. "30 Rock" and "Chuck" are the king and queen of this court. Between the two, they have added a daughter of a famous R & B singer, the queen of talk shows, a former "Friends" star, two gossiping "It" girls and an "Arrested Development" alumnus to their upcoming season returns.

This four-step pseudo-formula has never been proven to produce hits. Maybe you'll be the first. Give me a call when it happens.

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