Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Summer Burn-Off Theatre in winter: To Love & Die

If you've been reading me in The Star-Ledger long enough, you may know of my deep affection for Summer Burn-Off Theatre, that increasingly rare practice wherein networks run unaired episodes of canceled shows in the summer to help recoup their costs. Burn-Off Theatre is how I originally saw the "Freaks and Geeks" finale, how season two of "The Loop" wound up airing, and how I got to see one of the worst teen dramas ever made in the WB's "Young Americans." As a student of TV, I enjoy the bad burn-off shows almost as much as the good ones, because they prove instructive in demonstrating how something could be appealing enough to be ordered and then bad enough to get dumped into the July or August schedule.

The networks do less and less of this stuff with each passing year, because the amount they recoup on the initial investment isn't worth the potential lost ad revenue, or the amount of money that would be needed to promote a project with no future. In recent years, shows that were canceled in mid-season only get one or two shots in the summer before being pulled again, or just don't get shown at all. Sometimes a network will sit on an entire season of a show until summer and then pretend it's a big event instead of a burn-off (see also NBC's "Windfall" or the CW's "Hidden Palms"), but even that's getting rarer.

So it's an odd but pleasant surprise to see USA devoting one of the last (and least-watched) nights of 2008 to digging up the pilot for "To Love & Die," which was produced more than two years ago and ordered to series a year and a half ago, then never mentioned again. (Like Dan Fienberg, I remember seeing clips at the July '07 press tour and being intrigued.) It's got an interesting, USA-appropriate premise (directionless young woman meets the father she never knew, finds out he's an assassin, and decides to join the family business) and has the always-watchable Tim Matheson as the dad (plus the iffier Shiri Appleby, pictured above, as the daughter).

If I wasn't so swamped with press tour and January premiere screeners, I'd be all over the premiere tonight, if only to try to figure out why USA wound up passing on it. As it is, I'll record it to the DVR and try to find some time for it after I put a serious dent into the DVD pile. But for those of you who don't have several dozen hours of screeners to get through, it might be worth a look tonight at 8.


Zac F. said...

Thanks for the post, Alan. I'll set my DVR to grab this tonight while I'm at work.

Otter for the win! :)

David J. Loehr said...

I miss the days when they'd even run failed pilots to fill in gaps in the schedule. More recently, about ten years ago or so, TV Land used to do the occasional block of failed pilots. They were usually interesting enough to check out, even if only to see why they didn't work.

Anonymous said...

operating on the assumption that there would be *nothing* on for the rest of the week (besides "leverage", which i'm enjoying in spite of it's issues), i haven't even flipped through the tv grid. so, thanks for the heads up. tim matheson is always welcome in my house, no matter how crummy the show might turn out to be.

Anonymous said...

Is this show actually just a burn-off? Because I don't really want to get invested if it's not going to be around.

Jon88 said...

Agnes: Why not just think of it as a movie?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Agnes, definitely a burn-off. Appleby's on "ER," Matheson is elsewhere, etc, and it was shot two years ago. But, like Jon says, you can always just think of it as a movie.

Anonymous said...

I remember hearing about this show last summer. It was ordered to series, but I take it the order was rescinded? I'm surprised there wasn't any press coverage of that.

I love summer burn off (thanks for the memories, Swingtown) and I remember Young Americans. But I don't think that was summer burn off. Wasn't it actually made to premiere in the summer? The show was set in the summer session of school and it was set up in the final episodes of Dawson's Creek. A real WB burn off was Dead Last, which was like a spiritual (no pun intended) ancestor of Reaper. It even starred Tyler Labine!

Scott (gotankgo) said...

Great post.
Failed pilots often equal fascinating viewing for a multitude of reasons.

Pamela Jaye said...

ah, you want to tease me! (no, I know)

my DVR is full of untitled Jon and Kate Plus Eight Marathon (in case I want to complain about Kate some more)

I was just making myself a fan of some people in facebook - so far, Scott of course, Ken Jennings, Joss, and Jane Espenson

I know you have a feed there, but do you have a... I'm not sure what it is, perhaps a Celebrity/Public Figure Page? cause I think you'd fill out my "I'm a fan of" nicely (and i'm guessing that stuff goes in your (the fan's) Public Profile, if you want to have one - mine only said Mad Men when I first looked - as noted, I'm trying to round it out and make it look good but still true (which means I won't be becoming a fan of Shonda). So I figured being listed as a fan of yours would make at least one of us look good. ;-)

(I'm not adding Aaron Sorkin and I think it's mostly cause of the cocaine thing (and do you think perhaps he has a "diva" thing?). forgive me, but - aside from still being a fan of Grey's Anatomy - I have really high standards. hmm... wonder if I should add Donny Osmond... (Being a fan of Donny gives you the delightful opportunity to have people laugh at you.))

I did join his group or post on his group or whatever i did. I'm still reading up on Privacy Settings.

Pamela Jaye said...

meant to add

once saw a movie meant to be a pilot,I'm sure:

guy with superpowers trying to find his mother (gee, spacebars hate me too!) He stopped somewhere, fixed someone's TV antenna, and then they could get stations from Japan. Wonder what it was called and why it didn't fly.

Anonymous said...

Totally tivo'ing this one. Sounds like I would have loved it -- all three episodes, before it got cancelled once I really was invested. This way? I know going in that my heart will be broken. Unless it really really is bad. And then, I still know going in that I have no personal investment.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hmn... well, I forgot to watch this and only picked up the last half-hour; I'll DVR it on the rebroadcast at midnight, but I wasn't impressed with what I saw.

OK, problem #1 that I simply couldn't put out of my mind the entire time: do the casting people know anything about genetics? Because there is no freaking way that Appleby could be the product of Matheson and Fisher. She has dark brown eyes; they have blue/grey/green eyes. She has a dark complexion; they have too-pale-to-tan complexion. It's just absurd to look at these three people and try to pretend they're a family.

Is Appleby supposed to be a sociopath? Because her giddy gee-this-is-fun-and-I'm-kinda-good-at-it attitude towards murder was really disturbing (or rather, disturbed). Maybe it will make more sense in the context of the full episode, but seeing the last half hour alone was just absurd, and not in a good way.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, that was awful.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to confess to being blinded by Shiri Appleby's adorableness. (Genetic plausibility? In TV? That's asking a lot.) But why are we rooting for professional killers, anyway? (Maybe the time that Leverage spends explaining why their targets deserve what they get isn't wasted, after all.) And why is that, despite my not having known who Frances Fisher was about 6 months ago, she's suddenly everywhere - Eureka, The Shield, and now this?

I wonder of the pitch for this mentioned The Whole Nine Yards, by the way, which has some similar subject matters and attitudes.

Anonymous said...

Genetic plausibility: they don't usually get actors who look much alike, but they're usually not dumb enough to give a brown haired child to a blond and a red-head. This was every bit as bad. This was glaring, and I think it interfered with the whole meeting-your-dad-for-the-first-time plotline.

I did finally watch the whole thing through, so I can now authoritatively say that it sucked. They went out of their way to make it clear that daddy only kills bad guys, which takes some of the sociopathic edge off the whole thing, although one has to wonder how you make a living in the contract killing business if you only kill bad guys. And let's face it: killing off the biggest bully in the mob isn't necessarily a good thing, even if you make it look like an accident. And she still accepts the idea of killing a total stranger way too easily.

There were a few amusing bits, mostly with Christine Adams, who I loved as the dog dominatrix in Pushing Daisies, and some of the earlier flirtation with the guy (paintball: "a cute guy is trying to kill me!"), though that got old (flirting with him while he's tying her up in the back room).

The scene where Hildy is tied up and threatened with death and is still keeping her little secret is beyond absurd. The suspense of that scene was not remotely plausible, nor was his immediate acceptance of the fact when she finally admitted it. It would have worked much better if she had simply told him the truth early on, but he didn't believe it, and she had to try to convince him before he killed her.

I could not get past the name "Hildy," which made me think of Peter Scolari in Bosom Buddies.