Friday, May 29, 2009

"Mental" on Fox - Tight Writing, Good Storyline, Good Cast. What's Not to Like?

I was surprised, no shocked, that I liked this show because almost every critic (with few exceptions) gave a big thumbs down. Based on those reviews, I expected it to be "House lite". As far as I'm concerned, nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, it's on Fox. So is "Dollhouse" and it even has "house" in its name, but it's not "House." Yes, the star of "Mental" is a Brit. But he doesn't hide his accent. Maybe that should have been the first clue to considering the show on its own merits.

Here's the plot summary of the pilot:

Dr. Jack Gallagher (Chris Vance, "Prison Break" 2007-8 season), Psychiatrist, spends his first day as Director of Psychiatric Services at Los Angeles' Wharton Memorial Hospital trying to win over his colleagues and his boss Nora Skoff (Annabella Sciorra).

Because he's a psychiatrist he's a doctor, but like House? Marcus Welby, MD was a doctor. He wasn't like House. And neither is the principle character in "Mental".

Dr. Jack Gallagher first appears in the show in the Hospital Lobby where everyone else is waiting for some cops to take down a patient in a psychotic break with schizophrenia, played by Silas Weir Mitchell who plays psychotic so well, and who has taken off his clothes to prove he's a human to everyone else who he sees as non-human reptilians. After observing for a few seconds, Gallagher strips and tells him he's human too.

So he's relating sympathetically to patients. He's trying to win over his colleagues. That's definitely not Gregory House, M.D.

It is about psychiatry and psychotic patients (not neurotic people). It's tightly written and has some potentially interesting characters. It should be a stimulating show. If the first episode is any indication it will provide a serious look at mental illness and treatment options. It's not House but it could be just as interesting. It's weekly subjects likely will have more in common with the "ER" episodes with the Sally Field character who is bipolar.

It's a Summer show so it probably won't be canceled after the third episode. If it might appeal to you, give it shot.

Friday, May 1, 2009 - Now Home of the Big 3

In the original six part series posted here November 12, 2007, the importance of the birth of parented by NBCU and Fox was described. Also noted in that series was the following:

Disney (ABC) CEO Bob Iger was called upon to defend the company's narrow online video distribution at a recent corporate event. After doing a song and dance defense, he described it as an interesting debate, explaining that the original idea of amassing most of the video on was to promote the shows, use the site to upsell and "it also became a pretty good platform for advertisers."

He added: "We're going to take a pretty expansive view. .. We're going to be on more places than iTunes, and AOL."

This week we've learned that Disney/ABC has become a partner in I'm hoping this current HULU business model of free access with advertising support works out. But no one should be under no illusion that the free access model is the long term plan.

(For discussion purposes below, my use of the ubiquitous "they" means the large media, cable, and media+cable conglomerates. And I don't mean to imply a "conspiracy against the viewing public" but more a "joint effort to find a corporate economic model in which the existing few can thrive.")

The current HULU system isn't the model under discussion as the long term plan in the media, cable and advertising industry trade press. Apparently the cable companies want access to current programming on media company sites restricted to cable and satellite TV subscribers with some sort of "restricted membership access" model.

They would prefer an IPTV model using Tru2way enabled boxes. The ideal in their mind would be to allow access to "current program" streaming based on your package, so if your cable/satellite package doesn't give you access to the FX channel you can't stream an FX program shown in the past two years.

But they appear to have decided to settle for:
  1. access restricted to "cable channel" subscribers through any cable or satellite system; and
  2. allowing a PPV internet streaming system while offering "a better way" using set top boxes that recognize the viewer's programming package.
The media companies are sympathetic to the cable companies because at this point the advertising revenue doesn't support the basic on line operation of a site like, much less provide a revenue stream to help pay for the programming and generate a profit.

They envision some type of PPV revenue model for "current TV" and "newer movie" content based on streaming activities, such as 29¢ per episode stream or $1.59 per movie stream with limited advertising, perhaps offering an ad free alternative for an extra $1 per stream or annual subscription.

Content is being aggregated through the media-company-jointly-owned for three of the four major TV broadcast networks, their sister cable channels, and their sister media production and distribution companies (which represents a huge chunk of the media industry). CBS bought and is restructuring it to accomplish the same purpose as Hulu where, I would guess, we'll see CBS and Viacom content offered, ultimately maybe with Time-Warner and/or Sony.

I have to credit both NBCU (GE) and Fox (News Corp) for moving rapidly to creat an effective web site and experimenting with different outlet approaches. They're in a position to adapt to the economic needs of the cable/telcom-TV/ISP giants, while cleverly threading their way through the regulatory minefield. They haven't tripped and probably will avoid tripping any FCC/SEC/Justice Department mines by licensing content to Apple (which already has a fee structure), the new Google-owned YouTube media site, and Amazon's streaming system as well as the cable-owned web sites like Fancast.

In 2011 as the economic model becomes clearer, they'll make concessions to labor on residuals from internet content revenues. They don't want a protracted labor dispute which could raise antitrust issues.

The ultimate goal is to end up with as few originating sources for PPV video streaming as possible for media-conglomerate-owned content. Then, they'll launch a major attack on the video file-sharing pirates. Beginning in 2012, BitTorrent users may find themselves in a seriously troubling environment.