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Television That's a Little More "Naked"

Before you continue reading, let me be clarify the above title so that I am not actually in breach of the contract as it were: I'm not actually talking about naked television but rather Naked TV, a co-production between NYC-based theatre group Naked Angels and Fox Broadcasting Company.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Naked TV is an evening of live entertainment in the form of one-act plays, presented by Naked Angels and FOX in an attempt to "identify new writers and stage works which hold some potential for a TV adaptation." In theory, entertainment execs, representatives, etc. are supposed to attend the event and view these mini-pilots; FOX gets to see if the works play well in front of an audience; and new writers get the opportunity to potentially break into the industry.

Except that's not quite how it seemed this year.

This year's Naked TV lineup consisted of the following six one-act plays:

Penicillin by Deirdre O'Connor
Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen by Kathryn Walat
Waning Poetic by Chip Dunnigan By Graham Gordy
Sutton By Elizabeth Meriwether
The Paranoia of a Stay-at-Home Dad in Suburban Middle America by Mat Smart
No Leg Room by Liz Flahive

It was a rather mixed bag for this, the third installment of the program. The first year I went, I was really enamored of two of the plays and could definitely see both of them being developed into full network pilots (which they were, funnily enough). Their voices were strong and off-beat and original and even the plays I didn't like at least showed some potential behind the writing. So it was with some excitement that I arrived at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica on Saturday night, looking forward to an evening of unique voices from off the beaten path.

I was sadly disappointed.

Unlike the last time I attended, there was no geographic diversity to these pieces; all six of the writers were New York-based playwrights and--while there's nothing wrong with that--I didn't feel that they represented the level of talent or skill that's "out there" in New York or Los Angeles. This group should have been the best of the best of this year, offering up stories and concepts that showed promise and potential to either make it into the pilot development process... or at least entertain.

Only two pieces even managed to entertain and they were, by pilot standards, extremely close-ended. The first piece of the evening, Penicillin by Deirdre O'Connor about ex-lovers who meet at a clinic after he infects her with chlamydia and then tries to win her back, did manage to entertain me with some clever writing and a fun (and rather off-beat) situation, but it was the actors--especially standout Phillip Vaden--who made the piece spark. I couldn't, as much as I enjoyed the piece, see where this would go as a pilot for a series. But all in all, I enjoyed this selection more than any of the others that evening.

The other semi-impressive offering was Sutton by Elizabeth Meriwether, about the tense relationship between the U.S. president's daughter--an alcoholic party girl--and the African-American bodyguard assigned to protect her. After seeing Melissa Rauch take on another portrayal of a First Daughter in her brilliant and hilarious one-woman show, The Miss Education of Jenna Bush, I couldn't help but be disappointed by Meriwether's attempt to caricature one of the Bush daughters, which came off as a weaker version of Rauch's soaring production.

However, in both of the above pieces, there was at least some dramatic tension between the characters and the writers understood the basic conceits of story structure and gave the audience some plot turns as well as a resolution at the end. Not so with the other plays, which seemed to meander through their allotted minutes, offering up only random glimpses into other, less interesting worlds.

There was a stagy, almost amateur-ish air to the majority of these plays that was unwholly expected from the pedigree of the two companies who had come together to co-produce this evening: Naked Angels and Fox's Creative Writer Development department, which vice-president Stefani Relles describes in the program as "Fox Broadcasting Company's incubator for emerging television writers."

I agree that there needs to be a forum for up-and-coming television writers, who don't necessarily hail from Los Angeles or the television industry directly, but I feel let down by Naked TV's failure at achieving their overall mission. I would be surprised if any of these writers' works go on to be developed by Fox and for the most part I don't see many of the playwrights (except maybe O'Connor and Meriwether) being hired onto the writing staff of a television show, based on the material they presented here.

NPR had previously referred to Naked TV as "Fox goes avant-garde." But this year, it didn't feel that way at all. What I was hoping for was a creative symbiosis between non-traditional writers and the television pilot medium. I still think that there's a way to fuse the two--possibly with live entertainment as well--but I think that Naked TV needs to review their mission and get to their original vision. Otherwise, this is yet another mediocre showcase in an industry town filled with them.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: The King of Queens/How I Met Your Mother (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); 7th Heaven (WB); David Blaine: Drowned Alive (ABC; 8-10 pm); Prison Break (FOX); One on One/All of Us (UPN)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS); The Apprentice (NBC); Everwood (WB); 24 (FOX); Girlfriends (UPN)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS); Medium (NBC); What About Brian (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

7-9 pm: Jamie's School Lunch Project.

Jamie Oliver's latest British documentary series (after the wonderful Jamie's Kitchen) has finally (finally!) made it across the pond after a lengthy delay. The four-episode series follows British chef, author, restaurateur, and television personality Jamie Oliver (formerly known as The Naked Chef) as he tackles the poor conditions of school food in England, demonstrates its effects on childhood obesity, diabetes, and behavior, and sets out to create inexpensive, healthy, and--above all--tasty food for children.

9:30 pm: Old Christine.

As the season comes to a close, I am surprised by how this Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy has managed to break the dreaded Seinfeld curse and won me over to boot. On tonight's episode ("No Fault Divorce"), Christine's former marriage counselor shows up at the gym, causing some awkwardness for Christine. But then again, what doesn't cause awkwardness for Christine?

10 pm: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. (Damn you, Travel Channel, for getting rid of my beloved East Coast feed!)

In tonight's second airing of this season's "Japan" episode, relive the sight of Tony eating his way (nearly) to ruin in Japan's culinary capital of Osaka, celebrating the Japanese festival of Obun, and enjoying lushly delicious sushi in a tiny jewel-box of a restaurant.


Anonymous said…
What? You're not going to be watching David Blaine? But....but...he's BRILLIANT! He's lived underwater for a week and then is going to hold his breath for 9 minutes! And they are only going to milk it for two hours. He's amazing! The amazing David Blaine. He will tell you so himself. Watch as his skin comes off his body, as he shrivles away. Now THAT'S magic.

Or as Amy Poehler (or was it Tina Fey) said on Weekend Update something to the effect of - David Blaine has been living in water, and then maybe he'll come out and actually do a magic trick.

Seriously. I hate David Blaine. Why do people keep giving him specials? Why does anyone care? He's a dumbass.
Anonymous said…
As a struggling writer in LA, I think the idea of Naked TV is brilliant. There's nothing better than to have your work presented in front of an audience... particularly an audience filled with television executives, agents, etc. It's just unfortunate that this extraordinary opportunity went to waste this year. I'm sure there are some very talented writers at Naked Angels but it seems like they kind of missed the boat on what this showcase was meant to be.

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