Tag: michelle lee

Rise -aka Drama High- (NBC) pilot preview: Glee for emotionally open grown-ups, This Is Us style

Written and produced by Jason Katims (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights, Bosto Public). Inspired by a true story. Based on Michael Sokolove‘s book. Executive produced by Michelle Lee (The Path, Pure Genius, About a Boy), Flody Suarez (8 simples Rules…) & Jeffrey Seller (Hamilton, Rent). Directed by Mike Cahill. For Universal Television & True Jack Productions. 54 pages. 2nd revised network draft. 01/30/17.

Description: The story of Lou Volpe, a litterature teacher in his forties in a Pennsylvania high school, who is appointed by the principal to take over and modernize the theater program that is dying. He chooses the provocative and emotional rock musical Spring Awakening –about teenagers discovering the inner and outer tumult of sexuality in late-19th-century Germany- as their first production. A choice that won’t be without consequences for the students and their families in this “Americana” town…

With Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother, Mercy Street), Rosie Perez (Search Party, Lipstick Jungle), Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Marley Shelton (The Lottery, Eleventh Hour), Amy Forsyth (Defiance, The Path), Casey Johnson, Rarmian Newton (The Family), Shannon Purser (Stranger Things, Riverdale), Damon J. Gillespie, Shirley Rumierk, Joe Tippett, Ted Sutherland, Taylor Richardson


You’ll like if you already like: Glee, Smash, Friday Night Lights, This Is Us, Parenthood

Likely timeslot: Tuesday at 9 or 10 paired with This Is Us

There’s a question that is still haunting me six months later: why did This Is Us become such a success on NBC while Parenthood, which was very much in the same vein and even better, never got real traction during six years? There are multiple theories like Milo Ventimiglia’s ass in the trailer. Or the fact that the twists made all the difference. Mine is simpler: it came out with a perfect timing. The right show in the right place at the right time. And for the first time, fabulous writer Jason Katims, who was behind Parenthood but also Friday Night Lights and more recently Pure Genius, may have created the right show in the right place at the right time. Supposedly paired with This Is Us and not very far from The Voice, Rise has every chance to become a hit. And it deserves to. That’s the best script I’ve read this season so far (with comedy Libby & Malcolm at ABC which happens to be very timely too). It’s emotional, delicate and rich.

The pitch sounds like Glee and it’s probably Rise‘s biggest weakness from a marketing point of view. The feeling of “been there, done that” won’t be easy to erase from potential viewers’ minds. It’s a leap of faith, clearly. But honestly, whatever is your opinion on Glee -mine is not flattering- we’re very from it from the overall tone to the characters’ stories. Glee was a funny, entertaining, sometimes poignant show, which main goal was to give a litteral voice to characters rarely seen on TV. An enjoyable mess that outstayed its welcome, I’d add. Rise is an entirely different beast. By the way, it’s not exactly a musical high-school drama soap, as it could be described. It is mostly set in a high-school, there’s a bit of music in it -but not that much- and there are soap elements, that’s true, but to me it’s a realistic drama above all and the story of a working-class town and the families that live there. Like Friday Night Lights was not really a drama about football. Stanton, Pennsylvania, is like Dillon, Texas: a struggling but picturesque town with diners, churches, clapboard houses, american flags everywhere…

What NBC could and should insist on is the fact it’s based on a formidable true story, the one of Lou Volpe, a ground-breaking high school drama teacher who ran for 44 years the renowned drama program at Harry S Truman High School in Levittown, a low-income town in Pennsylvania, as chronicled in the book Drama High, written by one of his students, Michael Sokolove. And the fact that Jeffrey Seller and Flody Suarez, producers of Tony-Award-Winning hip-hop musical Hamilton, are associated with the project says a lot about how important Rise could become, as a cultural phenomenon and a stepping stone in this new era of television where networks want to reflect middle-America as how it really is. These days, people want real situations, real emotions, as This Is Us just proved.

Among the principal characters, aside from Lou Volpe and his family -he’s married and a father of three children- there is Lilette, a half Puerto Rican half Irish teenage girl, and her hot mess of a mother, a waitress sexually harassed by her boss; Robbie, an African-American stud, whose mother is in late stages of muscular disease; Simon, a Christian closeted young gay man, whose younger sister is in a wheelchair; Gwen, the theather’s queen bee whose parents are on the verge of divorce; Maashous, a mysterious foster kid who’s living secretly at the school… Don’t worry, Lou has his own Sue Sylvester: Tracey Wolfe, the high energy with a no-holds-barred mouth current Drama School teacher and a former high school theater person, who’s really funny and adds a welcome lightness to the ensemble.

Behind every student character, there’s a difficult, sometimes really sad but ordinary family story and a talent ready to explode with so many things to say through songs. We don’t get many informations about every one of them in the pilot but in the end we want to spend more time at their sides to understand who they really are and why they feel so familiar, how much we share with them… and hear more of their singing voices. Jason Katims is so good at portraying people without making them clichés. It’s impressive and admirable. This pilot is not about big twists or OMG moments or crazy laughs or huge performances. It’s about setting the stage for the season to come, introducing the characters and bringing them together towards this theater program that will change their life. There is so much potential and so many stories to tell starting from here. It couldn’t have been more promising and exciting than that.

Rise is probably one of the best things that will happen to us in a few months on television, believe me. It’s the promise of an exceptional show that will resonate with America and hopefully the whole world, that will bring people together. It will make us laugh and cry, and sing and dance, as long as we’re emotionally open and ready for it… Rise will make us all very happy. And that’s the most beautiful thing to do.

Bunker Hill (CBS) pilot preview: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, let’s save lives!


Created and executive produced by Jason Katims (The PathParenthood, Friday Night Lights, Boston Public, Roswell). Based on a draft by by Sarah Watson (Parenthood, The Middleman). Directed by David Semel (Code Black, Dr House, Person of Interest, American Dreams). Also executive produced by Michelle Lee (The Path, About a Boy). For NBC, Universal Television, CBS Television Studios & True Jack Productions. 67 pages.

Description: The story of the unlikely alliance between James Bell, a young Silicon Valley tech titan billionaire and Walter Wallace, a veteran surgeon with a controversial past, to start together a hospital with a cutting edge, “new school” approach to medicine called Bunker Hill…

With Dermot Mulroney (Shameless US, New Girl, Enlightened, My Best Friend’s Wedding), Augustus Prew (About a Boy, Kick-Ass 2, Klondike), Brenda Song (The Suite Life of Zach And Cody), Odette Annable (Dr House, Banshee, October Road), Reshma Shetty (Royal Pains), Ward Horton (One Life to Live, Annabelle), Aaron Jennings

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Nowadays, when a new medical drama is coming our way, the inevitable question is: is it more like ER or Grey’s Anatomy? Last year, at pilot stage, Code Black made me feel like it wanted to be ER but couldn’t help being more of a high-octane Grey’s Anatomy. LFE, the other medical pilot ordered at CBS at the time, was clearly a Grey’s Anatomy new generation, with a cable feel. Heartbeat at NBC was just an update of Grey’s Anatomy, with an older heroine and without the Shonda’s touch. With Bunker Hill, I have to admit it’s hard to tell. Which is a good sign. A very good one indeed. I don’t want to be presomptuous, but I feel like it has a good chance to become something if it’s picked-up. The “cutting edge” approach, which seemed weak to me when I read the pitch, is on the contrary its biggest strength. The show works a bit like a window on the future of medecine and the future of the hospital experience for both the patients and the medical staff. It’s fascinating and engaging.

The project written by Sarah Watson was first set up at CBS last year with a put pilot commitment, but it didn’t make it. The idea was revisited this year with a new take written by Jason Katims himself. I think we don’t give enough credit to this guy. Okay, he’s no Shonda Rhimes or Greg Berlanti, his shows are never huge hits but they’re always damn good. As a producer, he’s responsible for the incredible The Path at Hulu, which premieres in a few days, and he has scored pilot orders at HBO (Us.) and Showtime (Mating). Bunker Hill is his only network drama in the works at the time and I really hope CBS will give it a chance. He already failed to get a series order with his previous medical drama attempt a few years ago, County at NBC.

The pilot of Bunker Hill starts the day Walter Wallace gets fired from the Cincinnati hospital he worked for decades. A child patient died because of him. Wrong decision at the worst time. Six months later, he’s still unemployed and accept to visit a hospital far from his home and family in California, one which apparently wants him. And the whole episode consists of convincing him to stay. He’s welcomed by Angie, a geeky Asian programmer who scans his whole body in 3D (!) and the famous James Bell, a young magnetic billionaire, brilliant and totally unapologetic, that I would described as a nicer and crazier Dr House. He rocks. It’s a classic but efficient confrontation between an old-school doctor and a young brilliant mind. They make one hell of a duo.

Other characters are Zoe, an idealistic physician; Scott, the McSteamy of the hospital, an intense neurologist; Malick, an afro-american who defies our traditional idea of a doctor with his street vibe and countless tatoos; and finally Talaikha, who officially gets the award of “most complicated character name of pilot season” – she’s Doctor Channarayapatra! She may or may not have a crush on Wallace, despite the age difference. That’s all I’m saying. This diverse group made me wanna stay longer in Bunker Hill. There’s a lot to do with each one of them. They are portrayed just the right way. Just as Jason Katims knows how to. We’re given enough informations to care about them already and we feel there’s still plenty to give away in subsequent episodes. The patients and their medical cases are also taken care of properly, with sensibility. And the way they are treated, thanks to new technologies and bold thinking, is not the same as in every other medical shows. What becomes boring in Grey’s Anatomy sometimes -because they already did almost everything- is refreshed here.

The hospital itself is a character. We follow Wallace in his discovery of this incredible place, where there is for example a zen garden, where families wait for informations about their loved ones in a soothing environment; or an incubator, a real geek’s paradise with high-tech gadgets, a ping-pong table, for the doctors. In every patient’s room, there’s a “wonder wall”, a huge screen where doctors can get all the informations they need about the patient, that can turn into anything the patient want when the doctors are away, like an image of a Buddhist Temple or of the earth rising over the moon… All of this is impressive and exciting (and could be costly for the production).

Bunker Hill looks like the new medical drama we were all waiting for and networks are looking for a long time : it feels fresh, distinctive from what we are used to in the genre; warmhearted, optimistic; incarnate. I really hope CBS will give it a chance, whatever they decide to do with Code Black, which is on the fence for renewal at the time. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, CBS!