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September 02 2009

20 classic TV shows from four 'Televisionaries'. EW.com looks at the seminal shows of Aaron Spelling, J.J. Abrams, Aaron Sorkin and our very own Joss Whedon.

Comparing Joss and Sorkin to Spelling and Abrams seems so very wrong to me.
Given that the comparison is mainly at the level of "they're all televisionaries", it's perfectly legitimate.
Great list. We are lucky that all four have been as prolific as they have been.
I'm glad some people who know a lot more about the industry than I do share my opinion that Buffy is the best scripted show ever.
The One True b!X, the comparison is certainly legitimate, but "visionary" to me implies someone who actually has a brilliant or imaginative vision. Spelling fit neither of those adjectives, unless one were to be applauded solely for his ability to crank out mediocre product with commercial appeal; and Abrams had a spark of genius with Lost, then moved on and gave it to others.
Abrams is one of the few who adores both television and film, and I think that has helped bring television into the landscape we are today. Lost was definitely, even if he only developed it during S1, different than most network TV on at the time.

Spelling created a genre, whether we like the genre or not, he might have not been a visionary but he done something right. We wouldn't have gotten the '92 Buffy without 90210, eh?

I can't comment on Sorkin, but I'm willing to guess that, like Joss, he's a pretty damn good writer.
Abrams is one of the most talented guys in Hollywood. Not only is he a wonderful writer and - as Star Trek showed - director too, he's also a lightening rod for talent. He seems to share Steven Spielberg's ability to fuse mainstream spectacle and adventure with heart and character, as well as the bearded one's joy of cultivating and and developing other talented people and giving them an environment to succeed.

Abrams, Whedon, and Sorkin are three geniuses, in any age. Spelling was more of a business man. He knew what a certain audience would like, and he gave it to them. A lot.

I still think Joss Whedon's best work is ahead of him. Sadly, I don't think it's Dollhouse.
Well, there IS such a thing as an "instant classic" but I personally think it's a bit too early to include Dollhouse on that list. Maybe after Season 2. Some great episodes (eventually), but the whole show? Nah.

To me, Spelling's efforts definitely count since they inspired so many copies. (Jayme - right on about 90210.) He managed to create worlds that many people wanted to live in week after week. They were sort of like... bluejeans, not serious, but comfortable, always there for you, and with mass appeal. Who'd want to give up their jeans?

Of course to be a true classic, I suppose something does need to hold up over time. I guess Spelling's actual shows don't do that very well -- although I think their formulas do. In which case, it's probably too early for most of these shows to be on the list. We're just too close to them. Will people still enjoy them fifty years from now a la The Twilight Zone? Or were they just perfect for their time? (Discuss.)

But Buffy? Hell, yes!
This is about the 800th time I have seen someone referred to here as "our own." Do we own them? Our own Joss, our own Nathan Fillion, our own Tom Lenk, etc. Small a point as it is, this is like nails on a blackboard to me, since they are not "our own." It's like we are appropriating them for "our own" purposes.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2009-09-02 13:26 ]
And good morning to you.
well, I actually do own Tom Lenk (he's in my basement)
I used to have a part share in Adam Busch but then he cut his toenails and that was that, my investment went down the toilet (or in some cases flicked across the room into that hard to reach bit behind the laundry hamper).

In general I don't really think i'd call Aaron Spelling a creative visionary but he certainly had vision (whether intended or not, you could make a case that "Charlie's Angels" was as much a necessary first step to strong female characters on TV as e.g. Mr Humphries was towards the well-rounded gay character. First get the mainstream onside with T&A or humour and then bring in believable gay characters or strong female protagonists) and knew how to make a show people would watch. Sorkin, Whedon and Abrams (whatever you might think of them specifically) have all had a hand in doing something new enough to be noticed though and I reckon that qualifies as visionary.
Did I miss when Abrams became good? To me, he is bad for all the reasons Joss is good. Lost, he admitted himself, was just terrible written and planned out. Well he admitted to not knowing where the hell it was going. Sure, Tolkien did that too with LOTR, but he WAS a genious. JJ to me is hack, and I thought that was the general opinion >.< Oh well. I might be wrong.
If "fondly remembered" (even for their trashyness) is a qualifier for classic, then 90210 and Melrose Place fit the bill at least among a few people I know. One of my best friends and her sister were re-watching both shows hardcore as they went through massive marathon reruns within the past few years. She can't believe I never saw Melrose Place (not even a minute of it), even though I was a 90210 viewer for a while (sometime around when they were graduating highschool and then I stuck around for Tiffany Amber Thiessen for a while--blame Saved By The Bell).

Hey, Spelling got Kindred: The Embraced on the air, didn't he ?

Among JJ Abrams' accomplishments, I think large portions of Felicity are well worth a look and a mention. Pretty sure he stuck with that 'til the end too, in some capacity. The third Mission Impossible has its fans too (haven't seen, apparently they're making a fourth with him at the directing helm), as well as Alias (only saw first half of first season, will get around to some day). Like Joss, he also directed an episode of The Office (though Joss did two), though I can't remember if his was a standout. I thought Forever Young was pretty incredible and touching when I was a kid (you remember, that Mel Gibson flick where he's been frozen and wakes up like 50 years later or something). Have his contributions to Fringe been noteworthy ? Does it look like he's sticking close to that ? Star Trek was awesome and I know he only produced it, but I'm one of those people who enjoyed Cloverfield as well. The last thing on his IMDB that I recognize (aside from Armageddon) is the short-lived TV series Six Degrees. Tried out the first couple episodes, but it was a bore from what I remember. He only produced, so that failure doesn't really stick to him, 'specially since few probably remember it.

Gotta love that in the IMDB-reality, Goners is apparently slated for 2011 and Ripper is still in development. Someone should add Twister and Speed to Joss' writer credits (with a little "uncredited" in brackets).

Only seen Studio 60 for Sorkin's output, though I've come close to buying Sports Night a few times (dunno if I'll get around to The West Wing in this decade).

Beren, first: check out Lost again, 'cause the showrunners clearly do have a vision now (and have since mid-Season-3, by all accounts, though how much of the big picture they had in mind during Season 1 and 2 seems to be in constant debate among fans and online critics). I think some of the Abrams-trashing has calmed down a bit since Star Trek got a lot of people back on his side. Then again, he directed, so maybe a whole lotta folks out there are still skeptical of his writing abilities/long-term plotting abilities...which maybe no one will have to think about ever again, since he seems to have gone permanently feature and, while writing an episode or two of Fringe, seems to leave his TV developments in the hands of others to oversee in the long run).

[ edited by Kris on 2009-09-02 13:55 ]
Not really getting into the pro/con argument but I think Abrams is a fairly creatively hands-on style of producer. IIRC he actually called Drew Goddard up with the idea for 'Cloverfield', they "broke" the story together and then Drew wrote it, he talks about it at (IMO fascinating) length in his podcast interview with 'Creative Screenwriting' magazine. Been a while since I heard it though, might be misremembering.
I haven't really watched JJ Abrams T.V. work but I have greatly enjoyed his film work(Mission Impossible III,Cloverfield,Star Trek).I didn't care for his plans to reboot Superman though in the early 2000's.

As of right now Abrams is only producing and developing the storyline of Mission Impossble IV with two of his former Alias writers,Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec.It's unlikely he'll direct.
Looking through the list on IMDB I don't think I've seen anything that Spelling has done (even though I've heard a lot of them), it is a pretty impressively long list though.

Sorkin I love simply because West Wing is so brilliant. And writing/cowriting 80+ episodes? Crazy but amazing. The problems with Studio 60 are well documented but it had it's moments (usually when not focussing on the dull 'comedy' sketches). I'd also say that he definitely has his own style of writing/characters etc. In a similar way to Joss, I could tell if I was watching some of his work.

As for Abrams, his only show that I've watched all the way through is Alias and despite liking it, it became very very silly towards the end. I've never been a big fan of his work, particularly his writing, but there is no denying he's extremely successful and I do think he has some good creative ideas, it's just the execution and plotting of them that's the problem.

One person who isn't on the list but whose shows I usually like is John Wells (ER/West Wing/Third Watch/Southland). I'm not sure how much he puts into creating the initial ideas for the shows but he's a good EP/showrunner/writer/director.

Before I became a Joss fan I didn't pay attention to writers/showrunners/creators (well I was probably about 13...), but more and more now I find myself following certain peoples careers. As well as the two JWs and Sorkin I'm also looking forward to seeing what Josh Schwartz does as I love both The OC and Chuck.
I've never gotten into any of Spelling's or Abrams' shows. But I absolutely adore Sorkin. His seasons of The West Wing were some of the best TV ever made (you should definately check it out sometime Kris) and I also love Sports Night and think the not-so-goodness of Studio 60 is hugely exaggerated (though I must admit I still haven't seen the ending.)

If we're adding other showrunners Alan Ball is a good option in my book. Six Feet Under was brilliant at it's heights and now True Blood is developing into another jewel. Our own :) Tim Minear is a true visionary as well, of course. And Mitch Hurwitz is also someone to keep an eye on (though Sit Down, Shut Up sadly was cut immediately after showing its potential.)
Abrams' "plans" to reboot Superman were supposed to be truly horrid - so horrid the studio/producer guy would realize how horrid *his* take on the whole thing was. I saw him speaking about it with Kevin Smith on one of the IFC dinner show thingies.

I like Abrams a lot - Alias was great fun, until the final episode of total suckage. :P Abrams is a visionary; it's just the vision is only for so much story. I think he's spectacular at movies - I enjoyed MI:III despite hating the other MI movies with a passion - but not very good at maintainin over the longer length of a TV series; whereas with Whedon I sorta feel the opposite - Serenity to me had a few pacing issues, and the story felt a bit crunched compared to what seems brilliant pacing on most of the seasons & overall series on TV.
I think all four of these prolific creators are wonderful and I loved all the shows listed for vastly different reasons. I enjoy a lot of TV and would be rather annoyed if every show was a Joss Whedon show (blasphemy, I know). I love variety. I know it is trendy and popular to hate on JJ, but he has given me many many years of shows (and now movies) that I have enjoyed the hell out of. He does great actiony shows and popcorn flicks. Sorkin writes the best fast paced super smart banter on TV, and Spelling's shows represent a huge swath of my childhood. Loved them all.
JJ has read Whedonesque. Dunno about Sorkin.
I see why Spelling was included, but I'd've rather seen David Milch.

And what's up with the pic they chose for BtVS? Since when has B ever been afraid of Spike?Liked what they said about it though.
Hard to imagine JJ's Superman plans being worse than dead beat dad Superman but I guess it's possible. IMO he sure did wonders for Star Trek but after watching Lost for 2 seasons it became obvious to me the show had become blatantly, um, lost.
Superman Returns was not that bad. We enjoyed it when we went to see it in theatres, though it's far overshadowed by better superhero movies (hello Iron Man and Dark Knight) and already was when it came out, since Singer had already set the bar so high with X-Men 2 that I didn't expect a movie about Superman (a character/concept I have way less attatchment to than The X-Men, though considerably more after having gone through nearly the entire DC Animated Universe and a few of Bruce Timm's direct-to-DVD films) to impress me all that much. But Parker Posey and Kevin Spacey were fun as the villains, Routh played a good Clark (just his Superman that was a bore), and some of the supporting players did well (Bosworth was a poor choice for Lois, is all).

The "deadbeat dad" aspect isn't the film's problem, IMO (why shouldn't Clark have a kid ? Is the character and his surrounding situation never allowed to change ? This is one of the reasons why I loved Batman Beyond--it let Bruce Wayne grow old and portrayed his sad old man life as it would probably turn out. Maybe folks were expecting fresh and new with Returns, but I guess since I'd heard it was basically a continuation of the first two Donner films, I knew it would be `80s-ish in a lot of ways...and I liked that). My problem more had to do with the threat...Lex is sometimes known for out-there plots, but c'mon, creating land as a threat ? Yes, it's timely (well, it always will be and always has been), but so lame, at least as executed in that movie.

Hearing Kevin Smith (who also seems to be pretty lukewarm to disappointed about Singer's film) trash that executives ideas in his stand-up/college shows is hilarious. The giant spider and all that...
I really liked 'Superman Returns', my main/only issues being Ms Bosworth, it was overlong and the Jesus symbolism was a bit heavy handed. I didn't mind the "land as threat" plot because the entire film had been one big homage to the first two movies so why not use the same idea as the first film (but flipped) ? I also thought it more or less worked as a sequel and a reboot, something none of the other major "franchise" reboots have managed and liked that Singer loved the first two films enough to do it that way (cos I love 'em too).

why shouldn't Clark have a kid ?

Heh, "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" is Larry Niven's entertaining take on why not Kris ;). But I agree in principle, the films are an opportunity to tell a progressive story in a way you can only usually do in "What if ?"s or out of continuity stories in the comics. And for a character like Superman the places where he overlaps with humans are usually the most interesting (so ageing and mortality are big ones, children, marriage etc.)

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