9 premieres to look out for in October: ‘Homeland,’ ‘The Leftovers,’ ‘AHS: Hotel,’ ‘The Walking Dead’ & more

Posted in Image cache,News,Television by Scott Meisner on September 30th, 2015

We’ve made it through premiere week, and now as we enter October there’s more than a handful of cable offerings you cannot miss. Popular series like Homeland and The Walking Dead make their highly anticipated returns this month. On Halloween, Ash vs. Evil Dead raises hell (literally) as the iconic Sam Raimi creation comes to the small screen. And there’s so much more debuting in-between. Check out my picks after the break. (Click here for more…)

‘Serial’ podcast transitions to television with new investigative case in the works

Posted in News,Television by Scott Meisner on September 30th, 2015

Serial, NPR’s This American Life offshoot podcast that took the nation by storm last October, is coming to television. Host Sarah Koenig and her producing partner Julie Snyder are behind the TV adaptation, and they’re teaming up with Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Last Man on EarthThe LEGO Movie) to make it happen. According to Deadline, they’re “develop[ing] a cable series that would follow the making of the podcast as it follows a case.” The case at hand, mind you, is not the Adnan Syed investigation featured in the podcast’s first season; the TV show will tackle a new, still undisclosed case.

It was previously reported that Koenig and Snyder have been hard at work on seasons 2 and 3 of the Serial podcast. Last week, I attended a Serial-themed event hosted by the producing partners and they confirmed that they’re still concurrently working on the new seasons, due out this fall and in Spring 2016, respectively. They also referenced a mystery third project in the works, and perhaps the Serial TV series is what they were teasing.

Lord and Miller and Fox21 Television Studios have optioned the rights to the podcast and are currently shopping it around to cable networks. Due to Serial‘s immense popularity, it won’t take long for nets to bite.

“Chris and Phil take an unexpected approach to telling stories and that is so appealing to us at Serial,” Snyder said. “Developing a show with them is exciting because we feel like we speak the same language, only they’re smarter than us.”

“From the very first week of Serial’s release last fall, everyone at Fox 21TVS was obsessed with the podcast,” Fox21 head Bert Salke commented. “One year later, thanks to the incredible passion of Chris and Phil, who flew to New York and shared their vision with Sarah, Julie, Alissa [Shipp, This American Life producer] and Ira [Glass, This American Life host/producer] for what the series could be, we’re moving forward on this exciting project. What you have here is a ‘once every ten years creative storytelling phenom’ with a ‘once in ten years take’ with a ‘once in twenty-five years creative team.’ We are confident we’ll attract a spectacular writer and look forward to pitching it to outlets very soon.”

A self-proclaimed ardent fan of Serial the podcast, this news makes perfect sense to me. Serial, to me, was more than a podcast; it truly felt like I was listening to a TV show and imagining it come to life in my mind. Sort of like an audiobook, I guess. Taking that inventiveness and broadcasting it on a more mainstream platform opens up the addicting world of Serial to a larger audience. Details are scarce, but it sounds like the show will have a camera crew follow Koenig & co. as they perform their investigative duties and try to get to the bottom of an intriguing, unsolved case. This is me spitballing here, but maybe the series will follow the making of Serial’s third season, serving as a visual companion to the podcast. Whatever form it takes, the exciting possibilities are making my head spin. Serial is officially taking over, and there’s no better news than that.

[Via Deadline]

PS4’s latest update is massive, with improved social capabilities all around

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on September 29th, 2015

Sony’s PlayStation 4 is receiving its most significant system software update since launch and version 3.00 packs quite the punch. The ability to share gameplay with a wider audience is included thanks to expanded support for YouTube and Twitter. Joining Twitch and Ustream on the Broadcast Gameplay screen is YouTube; click the Share button on your DualShock 4 controller to access this screen and stream gameplay from PS4 directly to YouTube. Over on the Upload Video Clip screen, Twitter is now an option alongside Facebook, YouTube, and Daily Motion. Double tap the Share button to start recording your gameplay, and once it’s captured you can send up to 10 seconds of it to the Twittersphere. Live broadcast streams, video clips, and screenshots can be shared and viewed in the improved Live from PlayStation app; here you can browse popular trending content in real time.

You’ll surely notice two new icons featured on the PS4’s home screen. A new hub called Events provides an overview of activities taking place in the games you play most, as well as official broadcasts. Additionally, a dedicated section for PlayStation Plus gives you quick access to membership management, lists of the monthly free games to download, PS Plus deals, and a catalog of games you’ve redeemed through the subscription service on PS4. Oh, and here’s a biggie: online storage capacity has increased from 1GB to 10GB for all PS Plus members.

Sony is taking Party Chat to the next level with Communities. The former feature remains, but the latter one helps gamers foster groups based around shared interests, like games, genres, etc. When a Community is created, members can take advantage of a general discussion message board; text-based conversations and shared screenshots are supported here. Looking to jump into a friend’s game session? Hit him up on the Community board, or better yet, send him a “Request to Watch” notification–that’s new, too.

The Messages and Friends apps has been updated as well. You can now mark PSN friends as favorites, making it easier to group together and later find the people you chat and play games with the most. Stickers are supported in Messages; the first batch include ones themed around Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Knack, LittleBigPlanet 3, and Resogun.

Free system software update 3.00 hits PS4 on Wednesday, Sept. 30. Jump after the break to watch a brief glimpse of what’s in store, and click here to view more screenshots of the enhanced UI.

[Via PS Blog 1, 2] (Click here for more…)

Sam Smith selected to perform next James Bond theme song [Update: Hear it now]

Posted in Movies,Music,News by Scott Meisner on September 25th, 2015

UPDATE (9/25): Right on time, Sam Smith’s Bond theme music has arrived and you can stream it now on Spotify or purchase it on iTunes. Generally, “Writing’s On The Wall” is being greeted with polarizing reviews. It’s a beautiful song, no doubt about that; Smith’s falsetto paired with the track’s cinematic strings is mesmerizing. The song, however, fails to provide its anticipated “drop” and it doesn’t boast the signature Bond boldness audiences have become accustomed to. It’s unapologetically a different kind of Bond theme, a soft ballad focused on delicate nuance. Me? I appreciate it and enjoy it, and I think it’s going to work well in SPECTRE, a Bond movie that aims to get personal and introspective. Take a listen. What do you think?

PREVIOUS (9/8): Adele. Jack White. Madonna. Sheryl Crow. Tina Turner. Gladys Knight. Duran Duran. Paul McCartney. What do all of these musicians have in common? Answer: Each of them have performed a James Bond theme song. Today, a new name gets added to the list. Rising crooner Sam Smith, who released his Grammy award-winning debut album In the Lonely Hour just last year, has been selected to sing the theme song for the upcoming 24th Bond film, SPECTRE. He’s the first British male solo artist since 1965 (Tom Jones, Thunderball) to record a Bond theme song.

Smith’s name had been rumored pool of artists to tackle the track, along with Ellie Goulding. But just last week when BBC Radio 2 asked the 23-year-old singer if he was secretly working on it behind closed doors, he shut it down. “That’s not me. That’s definitely not me,” he said. Lies! …I’m sure he was sworn to such secrecy. And then, early yesterday morning, Smith posted to Instagram an image with no caption–he’s wearing a ring with the infamous SPECTRE logo etched on it. The cat was out of the bag, and the very next day the announcement was made official.

The name of the track is “Writing’s On The Wall” and its written by Smith and Jimmy Napes. If you’ve been following Smith’s career so far, then the Napes name should ring a bell. The Grammy-winning producer assisted Smith with writing many songs from Lonely Hour including the popular single “Stay with Me.” Napes was also there during Smith’s Nirvana EP days, and he was also commissioned by Disclosure to co-write the Sam Smith-assisted hit “Latch.” Speaking of Disclosure, the English electronic brothers disclosed on Twitter that they, too, had a hand in producing “Writing’s On The Wall.” Full circle, indeed.

With permission granted, Smith hopped back onto Instagram to reveal the track artwork (see above) and share this message with his fans: “This is one of the highlights of my career. I am honoured to finally announce that I will be singing the next Bond theme song. I am so excited to be a part of this iconic British legacy and join an incredible line up of some of my biggest musical inspirations. I hope you all enjoy the song as much as I enjoyed making it. You can pre-order ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ on CD or vinyl using the link on my profile, or on iTunes from midnight.”

SPECTRE producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli added, “Sam and Jimmy have written the most inspirational song for Spectre and with Sam’s extraordinary vocal performance, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ will surely be considered one of the greatest Bond songs of all time.”

The countdown is on; “Writing’s On The Wall” drops September 25. CD and vinyl singles can be preordered here. As soon as it releases, I’ll amend this post to include the highly anticipated track. SPECTRE hits theatres November 6.

[Via 007]

Netflix picks up cult British anthology series ‘Black Mirror’ for 12 new episodes

Posted in News,Television,Video by Scott Meisner on September 25th, 2015

Netflix knows how to pick ’em. Today the streaming service added Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror to its slate of original programming.

If you haven’t heard of the cult sci-fi series, it’s about time you did. Ever since the British anthology show made its way to Netflix, I’ve been spreading gospel about its unique nature and gripping storytelling. I previously described Black Mirror as The Twilight Zone for today’s tech-obsessed generation. Each standalone episode, to varying degrees, pulls back the curtain on what society might look like in our collective not-so-distant future. Episodes are intrinsically satirical, disturbing, unsettling, and most of all, wildly compelling. What’s out there now is a quick binge, too. Brooker produced two seasons (each comprising three episodes) and a special (featuring guest star Jon Hamm) for the UK’s Channel 4 network. All installments (minus the elusive special) are currently available to stream on Netflix, and I highly recommend you add them to your queue, stat.

Brooker has a keen sense of the world’s trepidations as our little “black mirrors” continue to consume our lives (read: smartphones, computers, televisions). Season 1’s “The Entire History of You” is widely considered the series best installment so far; in it, people are embedded with a device that allows you to record everything you do and see and hear. Obviously, this plays to people’s fears about Big Brother always watching, but it makes this fear even more intriguing by adding a personal twist. And then, of course, there’s “National Anthem” which focuses on a fictional Prime Minister who must have sex with a pig in order to save the kidnapped princess. Is a merely a coincidence that Brooker was able to predict something along these lines would actually take place in real life? I think not; he’s that good.

I’m happy to report that Brooker and his executive producing parter Annabel Jones are returning to helm the new episodes coming to Netflix soon. Brooker is already penning the 12 fresh installments, and production begins later this year in the UK. A release date has not been disclosed, but we can certainly cross our fingers for a 2016 launch.

“It’s all very exciting — a whole new bunch of Black Mirror episodes on the most fitting platform imaginable,” said Brooker in a press release. “Netflix connects us with a global audience so that we can create bigger, stranger, more international and diverse stories than before, whilst maintaining that ‘Black Mirror‘ feel. I just hope none of these new story ideas come true.”

“Charlie has created a one-of-a-kind series with an uncanny voice and prescient, darkly comedic vision. We’re tremendously proud to bring Black Mirror to our members as a Netflix original series,” added Cindy Holland, Netflix Vice President, original content.

Check out a mini-teaser after the break.

[Via Netflix] (Click here for more…)

Nickelodeon ramps up the nostalgia factor with new ’90s programming block ‘The Splat’

Posted in News,Television by Scott Meisner on September 25th, 2015

Four years after reintroducing its classic animated and live-action programming from the 90s, Nickelodeon is doing it again, but this time with a new name, a longer block, and a massive marketing push. So long, The ’90s Are All That. Welcome The Splat. This new programming block kicks off on TeenNick on October 5 and will air from 10pm to 6am. That’s a major expansion as the previous ’90’s block aired from midnight to 3am.

From the get-go, The Splat will air reruns of classic shows including All That, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Kenan & Kel, Rocko’s Modern Life, Rugrats, Salute Your Shorts, and The Wild Thornberrys.

“We are looking at our library to bring back ideas, shows that were loved, in a fresh new way,” Russell Hicks, president of content and development at Nickelodeon, spilled to Variety“We are getting ready to bring back some of the ones [fans] told us multiple times they want to have brought back.”

The Splat is all about recreating Nick during the ’90s. So, for full nostalgia effect, programming stunts (Super Toy Run), promotions and interstitials (Doo-Wop Dinosaurs, Opera Lady) that filled air time during commercial breaks will also be making a comeback. It’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back in time, and that’s exactly what the network is going for here.

“We have been listening closely to our first generation of Nick kids that are craving the great characters and shows they grew up with watching Nickelodeon in the ‘90s,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of Viacom Kids and Family Group. “We designed The Splat with fans and their requests in mind, which means we’re bringing together these beloved series and a high level of digital engagement to give fans a retro media experience they can’t get anywhere else.”

In addition to airing the programming block, Nick intends to increase awareness with a website, a social media push across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and other popular platforms, and a custom emoji keyboard featuring related stickers and GIFs.

The time is ripe for something like The Splat. Need proof? Jimmy Fallon recently hosted a Good Burger reunion, inviting All That and Kenan & Kel alum Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell to the Tonight Show for some nostalgic fun. The sketch, embedded after the break, has racked over 4.3 million views in just two days. Watching it instantly brought me back to my youth, and there’s no doubt The Splat will do the same when it launches next month. (Click here for more…)

Jimmy Fallon & ‘The Tonight Show’ present the quintessential ‘Empire’ parody, “Jimpire”

Posted in Hilarity,Television,Video by Scott Meisner on September 22nd, 2015

The next Tonight Show Digital Original sketch is the Empire parody we should have gotten months ago when SNL didn’t quite hit the mark with theirs. This short is nothing short of hysterical.

Jimmy Fallon stars as Lyon patriarch Lucious. His Terrence Howard impression is one of his best to date; he’s got Howard’s shaky voice cadence down to a science. The premise borrows from the Fox soap. Jimmy’s vetting his inner circle to pick his heir to The Tonight Show, or as it’s aptly called here, the “Jimpire.” The late-night talk show host is self-deprecating at the top of the pre-taped sketch–he makes fun of his finger injury that’s seemingly taking forever to heal.

So who are Jimmy’s possible successors? There’s Questlove of The Roots, the Tonight Show‘s bandleader who harbors “a little secret.” Clearly this is a take on Empire‘s Jamal, but the secret isn’t what you think. Roots MC Tariq is another candidate, and he channels Hakeem with some drip-dripitty-drop-ing. Andre, the eldest Lyon, is also accounted for and the sketch has fun with the character’s temperamental mood swings. And finally there’s Tonight Show announcer Steve Higgins playing Higgy, the Cookie sendup here. He’s just as outrageous in the role as you think he’d be, and more.

There are a couple exciting Empire cameos sprinkled in, but I won’t ruin those for you. Who do you think has what it takes to run the Jimpire? Mash play and find out! (In case you’re wondering, the real Empire returns for its second season this Wednesday, Sept. 23 on Fox.) (Click here for more…)

‘Game of Thrones’ & ‘Veep’ win big at record-breaking Emmys

Posted in News,Television by Scott Meisner on September 21st, 2015

Andy Samberg of Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine proved to be a fun host at the 67th Emmy Awards. He opened the star-studded night with a pre-taped opening number very much in the vein of his classic SNL Digital Shorts; I related to the sketch about a rabid TV binge-watcher a little too much. It was absolutely hysterical, and Samberg would go on to stretch that funny and quirky tone throughout the rest of the telecast. Later, another pre-taped segment aired featuring Samberg, his Lonely Island crew, and Parks and Rec‘s Jim O’Heir spoofing the Mad Men series finale. There was even a point where the host shared his HBO NOW login information; friends confirmed that it actually worked! Feel free to try it now–using the login khaleesifan3@emmyhost.com and password password1–though be warned that by now someone has likely changed that information to keep the account locked down for him or herself. All in all, though this year’s Emmys ran in a very traditional format (there weren’t any out-of-left-field surprises, unless you count Tracy Morgan’s comeback appearance at the end), Samberg managed to keep audiences thoroughly entertained as a welcome stage presence.

Moving onto the actual awards, this was a record-setting year at the Emmys for myriad reasons. First let’s start with the night’s big winners. HBO’s Game of Thrones and Veep were crowned Outstanding Drama and Comedy, respectively, taking home the most coveted awards of the evening. Thrones won a total of 12 Emmys this year–that’s the most wins in a single year for a series. The previous record holder was The West Wing which won 9 Emmys in 2000. In addition to Outstanding Drama, Thrones also won for its writing (David Benioff and Dan Weiss, “Mother’s Mercy”), directing (David Nutter, “Mother’s Mercy”), and acting (Peter Dinklage). Veep, meanwhile, broke Modern Family‘s winning streak just as the ABC sitcom was hoping to secure a record-setting sixth consecutive win. The HBO comedy took home trophies recognizing its actors (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale) and writing (Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche, “Election Night”). The premium cable network that airs these shows had the best night: HBO took home a grand total of 14 Emmys (thanks, in part, to Olive Kitteridge dominating the Limited Series categories) and it managed to do something that hasn’t been done in 13 years. The last time the same network had two series that won the Outstanding Drama and Comedy trophies in the same year was back in 2002 when NBC did it with West Wing and Friends.

Elsewhere, the incomparable Viola Davis became the first African American to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role as Annalise Keating in ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. Her historic acceptance speech was the best and most memorable of the night; if you missed it, you must watch it now. In addition to eloquently quoting Harriet Tubman, she went on to say this amazing line. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”

Also of note, it was the cast of Mad Men‘s final year to win an Emmy and at long last leading man Jon Hamm got the statue. Though he was nominated for his iconic role as Don Draper seven times before, it took lucky number eight to finally break the mold and come out on top. His awkward crawl to the stage made the wait worth it.

Click here to browse all of the winners (and losers) from this year’s Emmy Awards. Spoiler alert: Amazon’s Transparent did well, too. (Click here for more…)

Your guide to 2015 fall programming–CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX & CW premiere dates inside

Posted in Images,News,Television by Scott Meisner on September 20th, 2015

Summer went by in a flash, didn’t it? For most, that’s a bummer; the wonderfully warm weather, fun at camp, trips to the beach. But for those of you who consider yourselves an avid TV watcher, the fall couldn’t come fast enough. Sure, summer was brimming with fantastic shows this year (I’m looking at you, Mr. Robot). Even still, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of being reacquainted with your favorites characters you spend time with the most, from September through May. And now, we’ve made it! The leaves are just starting to fall from trees, and that can mean only one thing: it’s pick up your remote and fire up the DVR. The fall TV season begins now!

Jump after the break to browse fall programming guides for all the major networks including CBS, NBC, FOX, and The CW. Get familiar with new shows, too, with my personal recommendations and links to preview them all. Have a happy premiere week! (Click here for more…)

Disney brings ‘The Jungle Book’ to life in live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic

Posted in Movies,Video by Scott Meisner on September 15th, 2015

Following Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, Disney continues to pump out live-action adaptations of its classic animated films and next up is The Jungle Book. Still based on Rudyard Kipling’s book, the new Jungle Book deviates from its 1967 animated adaptation by involving a real human boy playing Mowgli–newcomer Neel Sethi–and blending live-action with photorealistic CGI animals and environments. The differences don’t stop there. Iron Man helmer Jon Favreau takes the timeless tale into a more heightened direction; danger lurks around every corner in this teaser trailer. If you’ve seen Her, there’s no mistaking the voice of Indian python Kaa, seductively played by Scarlett Johansson. She narrates the action-packed teaser. The preview ends on a nostalgic note–free-spirited bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) whistles “The Bare Necessities” as Mowlgi rides on his stomach down a river. The rest of the stellar voice cast is listed below inside the movie’s official synopsis:

“The Jungle Book” is an all-new live-action epic adventure about Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a man-cub who’s been raised by a family of wolves. But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and the free-spirited bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray). Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire. The all-star cast also includes Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of the fiercely protective mother wolf Raksha, and Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of wolf pack’s alpha male Akela.

The Jungle Book hits theatres in 3D on April 15, 2016.

Latest Snapchat update adds selfie Lenses, Trophy achievements & more replays

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on September 15th, 2015

Today, Snapchat released a new version of its incredibly popular image and video-based social app and it comes with a slew of fun new features.

First up there’s Lenses. Previously, when users went to capture a selfie in Snapchat, they’d have the option to swipe through a bunch of different aesthetic and location-based Filters. Those remain, and being thrown into the mix now is Lenses, which are basically animated filters that make your selfies a bit more…exciting. Some of them are cute and endearing, such as the heart eyes (raise your eyebrows to make pink hearts pop from your eyes) and heart avalanche (open your mouth a pile of pink, purple, and white hearts fall on you). Others, meanwhile, are straight up bizarre; there’s one that paints your cheeks pink, super-sizes your eyes, and makes you puke a rainbow, and another transforms you into a scary demon. To activate Lenses, simply press and hold anywhere on your face before taking a Snap when you’re in selfie mode; a carousel of Lenses will appear along the bottom of the screen for you to scrub through. After your face gets scanned, on-screen instructions will tell you how to make the animations come to life (either by lifting your eyebrows are opening your mouth). You can snap a picture or hold down to record video, same as always. There are a total of seven Lenses to choose from, and Snapchat says it’ll rotate one out each day and replace it with a new one to keep things fresh.

Next there’s Trophy Case. It’s hidden inside the app’s main menu; in the snap screen, tap Snapchat’s ghost logo (located at the top-middle of the screen) and when the menu drops down you’ll notice a new trophy icon up top. Tap that to access your Trophy Case. It’s here where you’ll find unlockable achievements. The more you use Snapchat, the more achievements you’ll unlock. Achievements are presented as emojis. The one’s I have so far: “Your Snapchat score hit 1,000!” and “Sent a video Snap.” The company is not disclosing how to unlock them all, so you’ll have to send more Snaps to discover what’s hiding behind the unmarked locks. It’ll admit, it’s a smart way to keep users stuck inside the app!

And last, there’s a significant update to Snapchat’s Replay feature in this update. The app’s very first in-app purchase is the ability to purchase additional Replays. “We’ve provided one Replay per Snapchatter per day, sometimes frustrating the millions of Snapchatters who receive many daily Snaps deserving of a Replay. But then we realized — a Replay is like a compliment! So why stop at just one?” says Snapchat in a blog post. Starting today, users can purchase extra Replays for those moments when one a day simply isn’t enough. Pricing starts at 99 cents for 3 Replays. The company admits that’s pricey, “but time is money,” it exclaims. On the one hand, this optional purchase dilutes the magic of Snapchat and its image-focused self-destructive nature. Still, good on them for keeping the single (free) Replay around for users who want to use the feature but don’t want to pay up.

Now start freaking out your friends with those new Lenses by downloading the update today in the App Store.

[Via Snapchat]

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Jam-packed Apple event introduces iPad Pro, iPhone 6s & all-new Apple TV (and so much more)

Posted in Image cache,News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on September 9th, 2015

Today is a HUGE day for Apple. The tech company managed to pack in so many updates across its ever-expanding product lineup. The Apple Watch, the iPad and iPhone families, and even the Apple TV all received notable boosts in functionality. There’s so much to discuss, so without further ado, let’s dive right into it. Jump after the fold for a comprehensive breakdown of the day’s events. (Click here for more…)

TV reminder: 5 series to look out for in September

Posted in Image cache,News,Television by Scott Meisner on September 8th, 2015

As summer draws to a close, we’ve made it to my favorite time of the year: new fall programming is upon us. But before we dive into the Big Network’s schedules (that’s coming later this week), let’s take a quick look at some of cable’s anticipated offerings premiering this September. Jump after the break for the rundown. (Click here for more…)

BB-8 by Sphero is the droid you’re looking for

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Meisner on September 4th, 2015

We’re a mere three months out from stepping into a new chapter in the Star Wars universe. In an effort to ramp up anticipation of The Force Awakens (as if everything else hasn’t already), Disney Consumer Products and Lucasfilm have branded today “Force Friday,” a day to celebrate all things Star Wars with officially licensed products including toys, collectibles, gadgets, you name it. Retailers nationwide are selling brand new Star Wars stuff, and perhaps the most coveted of them all is the app-enabled droid BB-8 from Sphero.

Sphero, the company behind app-controlled spherical robots, was chosen by Disney and Lucasfilm to imagine and produce an interactive iteration of everyone’s favorite Astromech Droid, BB-8. Though little is known about this cute little droid who’s set to make his debut in The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans worldwide immediately embraced BB-8 following its impressive stage presence at this summer’s Star Wars Celebration. BB-8 is director J.J. Abrams’ shining example of how he’s following in George Lucas’ early footsteps using practical effects above CGI ones where possible. BB-8 looks like a giant soccer ball with an R2D2-like head magically balancing on atop its body. The droid stunned the crowd at Celebration, and now, thanks to Sphero’s handiwork, you can call BB-8 your own.

The BB-8 toy is significantly smaller than its movie character counterpart, fitting in the palm of your hand. Pair it with your phone via Bluetooth and you’re in control of its movements. A free companion app on iOS and Android allows you to guide it around, a patrol mode makes it roam around your space autonomously, and a message mode lets you create, send, and share holographic videos (the droid does not actually beam out holograms, mind you; you’ll see the augmented reality images displayed on your phone or tablet). Gyroscopic propulsion and magnets make the magic happen. Be careful, though; BB-8’s head will fly off if you slam it into a wall hard enough or accidentally drop it from an elevated surface. Battery life is listed at an hour, and it comes bundled with an inductive charging cradle. The coolest bit? Sphero says its BB-8 has an “adaptive personality that changes as you play.” Its got a range of expressions and sounds, and it’ll perk up when you give voice commands.

Simply put, this is the droid you’re looking for. See BB-8 in action after the break.

What will all this tech cost you? Sphero’s newest robotic toy is a pricey $149.99, and it’s available today. Good luck tracking one down, though. BB-8 is the new Tickle-Me-Elmo, if you know what I mean. Sphero sells it on its website, and major retailers carry it, too.

Happy Force Friday!

[Via Sphero 1, 2] (Click here for more…)

Hulu lets you ditch ads for $11.99/month

Posted in Music,News,Technology,Television by Scott Meisner on September 2nd, 2015

And just like that, Hulu’s jumping on the ad-free bandwagon. To compete with the ad-free competition (namely Netflix and Amazon), Hulu is now offering a No Commercials plan at $11.99/month. That’s four dollars more than the Limited Commercials plan (formally known as Hulu Plus) that has been around for awhile now. Nearly all of Hulu’s library of TV shows and movies will steam without ads; there are only a handful of series that will roll ads before and after (but not during) a viewing session and they are: Grey’s Anatomy, Once Upon A Time, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal, Grimm, New Girl, and How To Get Away With Murder. The reason? It’s simply a matter of licensing deals. Other than that, you can say goodbye to commercials on Hulu as long as you sign up for or upgrade to the new plan.

“At Hulu, we pride ourselves on listening to our customers and giving them the best possible experience,” said Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins in a blog post. “Many of our customers have asked us for a commercial free option, and so today we are excited to introduce just that. Providing more choice for consumers is fundamental to the Hulu experience, in addition to an array of choices in content and devices, our customers can now choose to watch with or without commercials.”

The ad-free plan comes at a time when Hulu really has to start showing its muscle if it wants to continue to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Both of those streaming services have consumers flocking to their content libraries thanks to high quality original productions (see: House of CardsTransparent, etc.) and exclusive partnerships with major film houses. In addition to introducing this new plan, Hulu is doing its part by churning out original content (The Mindy Project is coming soon, as is an anticipated new series from J.J. Abrams and Stephen King, 11/22/63) and making deals with companies like EPIX. In fact, Hulu recently snagged EPIX away from Netflix, and this will result in an influx of hit films from Lionsgate, MGM and Paramount. Game on.

[Via Hulu 1, 2]

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Google gets a makeover in an effort to streamline its brand and services

Posted in Image cache,News,Technology by Scott Meisner on September 1st, 2015

Less than a month after restructuring its company, Google Alphabet (I’m still getting used to it) has gone ahead and “evolved” its most recognizable logo. G is for Google and now that “G” and the name itself “Google” sport brand new, modernized looks as the company embarks on a new chapter of innovations.

Of course, the Google logo has gone through many facelifts over the years, but this has to be the boldest one yet. The classic blue/red/yellow/green color scheme remains, but the typeface has changed quite dramatically featuring an even flatter, more playful aesthetic.

Why now, you ask? Google started as a search engine that could only be accessed on a desktop browser. Today, it has spread to mobile and across a variety of apps including Maps and Chrome and even a full-fledged operating system in Android. The company aims to streamline its branding across its many services, and the new logo allows it to do just that.

The logo is a transformative entity this time around. In addition to the traditional logo featured on the search engine’s homepage, there are the four colored dots, “a dynamic distillation of the logotype for interactive, assistive, and transitional moments.” Hop onto your mobile device and make a voice search; you’ll notice the microphone icon is multicolored now, and when Google’s thinking you’ll see the colored dots bounce around. Last, there’s the new and improved letter G, “a compact version of the Google logo that works in small contexts.” It too is multicolored to match the logo, and you’ll see it presented in app-appropriate shades within Google Maps, Google Translate, and all the rest. The lowercase little blue “g” icon is no more.

Alphabet describes its new Google logo as “simple, uncluttered, colorful, friendly.” Though it’ll take time to get used to its new look, it’s hard to deny that those descriptors make it work. I’m all for modernization, streamlining, and simplicity, so from where I’m sitting, it’s a welcome rebranding indeed.

Interested in learning more about the design techniques that went into producing the new Google logo? Head over to Google’s Design blog for additional details. Oh and jump after the break for an historical look at the famous logo.

[Via Google] (Click here for more…)

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Nintendo brings the New 3DS to US gamers, ‘Animal Crossing’ bundle in tow

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on August 31st, 2015

That took awhile. Nintendo has finally decided to bring the New Nintendo 3DS stateside. In October 2014, the Mario makers introduced the New Nintendo 3DS XL in its home country of Japan (there they call it the 3DS LL). Three months later, it came to the U.S. with all its input enhancements including the C-stick nub and the ZL and ZR triggers, as well as NFC inside and improved facial tracking technology. However, if you’ve been in the U.S. market holding out for an updated version of the regular-sized 3DS, you’ve been SOL, until now, that is.

On Monday, Nintendo announced that the New 3DS is coming to the States on September 25. There’s a slight catch, however. Instead of coming in the standard red and black paint jobs, the New 3DS is bundled with Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, and the hardware itself is plastered with an Animal Crossing cover plate (see above). Of course, there’s no telling if/when Ninty will release a standard version of the New 3DS to consumers, so for now you’ll have to live with this (the interior of the hardware, mind you, is white). The bundle comes with two themed cover plates, the game, an amiibo card, and a 4GB memory card. The MSRP is $219.99; bookmark it to preorder soon.

On the subject of 3DS, also outed is a Legend of Zelda themed 3DS XL Hyrule Edition, priced at $199.99. The gold-colored, Hylian Crest emblazoned handheld releases October 23; Gamestop’s got it up on its site.

Elsewhere, Nintendo has entered into a partnership with Amazon allowing the online retailer to sell digital downloads of Wii U, Wii, and 3DS titles. Simply purchase a game, redeem a code, and the game will automatically download onto your console of choice. Browse the storefront here.

[Via BusinessWire; Engadget]

Taylor Swift cleans up at the 2015 MTV VMAs, presents Video Vanguard Award to Kanye West

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Meisner on August 30th, 2015

The 2015 MTV Video Music Awards was all about squashing beefs, for the most part. The award show opened with a performance by Nicki Minaj who was later joined by Taylor Swift. The two had been bickering back and forth on Twitter not so long ago, and so their stage collaboration put the kibosh on that. Later in the evening, Swift would come out to present the coveted Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award to Kanye West. Of course, Swift delicately buried the hatchet between them in regards to Kanye stealing her spotlight back in 2009 during the now infamous “Imma let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time” interruption. Two beefs squashed, and one emerges: Nicki Minaj managed to squeeze in a snipe at Miley when the “Anaconda” artist took the stage to accept the award for Best Hip-Hop Video. Host Miley apparently said some nasty things about Minaj in the press recently, and Minaj wasn’t ready to go quietly into the night. You could argue that the moment was scripted, but when the camera swung over to Miley just as she was about to start the next segment, she looked genuinely surprised and taken aback by it all. If MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch ever makes a comeback, I think they’ve got their first matchup all lined up for them now.

All in all, it was a rather lackluster VMAs. In terms of memorable performances, there really were only two: Tori Kelly blew away the competition with her talented set of pipes singing a powerful rendition of her single “Should’ve Been Us;” and The Weeknd’s massive hit “Can’t Feel My Face” got the crowd to its feet, even Kanye West was dancing in the aisles! Speaking of Mr. West, he accept the Vanguard Award late in the telecast. And instead of performing a medley of hits like Justin Timberlake did last year, he stormed the stage and presented a classic Kanye rant that went on for far too long. In a nutshell, he admitted he was high and he’s running for president in 2020. That last part is a joke…I think.

Curious about the winners? It shouldn’t come as any surprise that T-Swift walked away with the most Moonman statues, this year specially designed by fashion designer Jeremy Scott. Her “Bad Blood” music video, which has racked nearly 500 million views on YouTube, was crowned Video of the Year and “Blank Space” was named Best Pop Video and Best Female Video. That video, mind you, has been viewed over 1.1 million times on YouTube! Elsewhere, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars took home the award for Best Male Video for “Uptown Funk,” Big Sean, Kanye West, and John Legend’s “One Man Can Change the World” won Best Video with a Social Message, Fall Out Boy remains relevant winning Best Rock Video for “Uma Thurman,” and Fetty Wap is The Artist to Watch thanks to his uber-popular banger “Trap Queen.”

Click here for the full list of winners.

Ryan Murphy dishes ‘American Horror Story: Hotel’ details: Lady Gaga is The Countess, and she’s out for blood [Update: New spooky teasers inside]

Posted in Image cache,Images,News,Television by Scott Meisner on August 26th, 2015

Thanks to a new spread presented by Entertainment Weekly, we now have a clearer gaze into what the next iteration of American Horror Story with Lady Gaga is going to look like. The facts are these.

The titular hotel is named Cortez, and it was built in 1930 “by the rich and charming but deeply psychotic James March” played by AHS vet Evan Peters. EW goes on to describe the Cortez as “beautiful art-deco” and “a labyrinthine structure built to hide March’s murderous activities.”

Presently, the hotel is run by Lady Gaga’s character, The Countess, “a glamorous socialite who attends art openings and fashion shows.” She drinks blood for nourishment, but creator Ryan Murphy doesn’t want fans thinking he’s diving into the beaten-to-death world of vampirism. “I prefer the term ‘ancient blood virus,’” Murphy tells EW. “It’s not vampires. It’s really a form of hemophilia in a way. There’s no capes and fangs.” The Countess has an appetite for love and sex, and we see this manifest in a love triangle between Donovan (Matt Bomer) and Tristan (Finn Wittock). Those infected with the virus, including The Countess and her lover Donovan, crave human blood. Murphy promises answers around the halfway mark. “Around the middle of the season, we sort of explore the origins of all that and [The Countess] and where [the virus] comes from.” What we do know early on, though, is how they kill. Without fangs, the infected slice up their victims with chainmail gloves; Gaga’s sport razor-sharp nails as seen in the initial teaser.

We also have some insight about the other characters inhabiting the hotel:

Ramona Royale (Angela Bassett), an actress/former lover of The Countess’ seeking revenge; Iris (Kathy Bates), Donovan’s mother and the front desk clerk; Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare), a cross-dresser nicknamed by The Countess; Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson), a junkie and friend of The Countess; Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley), a cop investigating a murderer named the Ten Commandments Killer; and The Addiction Demon, a creature in the vein of Rubberman or Bloodyface, who has no eyes or mouth but does wield a nasty, conical drillbit dildo.

Throughout the anthological series, Murphy has planted clues that help connect the disparate seasons together. With Hotel, he aims to make the most overt connection yet. “We do go to the Murder House for one episode,” he teases. Murder House, of course, was where spooky acts of terror took place in show’s debut season. In addition to that, a character from season 1 is making her way to Hotel. Marcy the realtor (Christine Estabrook), who sold the Murder House to the Harmons, returns as a real estate agent to show off the Cortez to Cheyenne Jackson’s character Will Drake.

And now, pictures! Lady Gaga’s Countess is on the cover of EW‘s latest issue, and inside you’ll find never-before-seen stills of other characters from AHS: Hotel including March, Donovan, and Tristan. Click here to view them all, and hop over here to browse more pictures from Gaga’s in-character photoshoot.

American Horror Story: Hotel premieres October 7 on FX.

Update (8/29): Murphy’s gone ahead and shared two more stills from the set: a turbaned Countess and a mystery man behind a mask.

Update 2 (8/30): Jump after the break to watch all five AHS: Hotel teasers, three of which are brand spankin’ new.

Update 3 (9/10): I’ve posted three more teasers after the break, “Spikes,” “Locked Up,” and “Hallways.” The latter is the first to include first looks at the ensemble cast!

Update 4 (9/14): Lady Gaga is the star of the latest 30-second spot for AHS: Hotel. Watch “Above & Below” directly after the break.

Update 5: (9/16): And the clips keep on comin’. This time around, however, it’s a 2-minute first look inside the new season, featuring soundbites from the cast. You know where to find it.

[Via EW 1, 2, 3] (Click here for more…)

Apple rebrands its London-based music festival, announces headliners including Pharrell & Disclosure [Update: More performers added]

Posted in Music,News,Technology by Scott Meisner on August 21st, 2015

Since 2007, the iTunes Music Festival has attracted many talented and hugely popular musicians to its London venue including Adele, Beck, Coldplay, Elton John, Foo Fighters, Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Muse, and Paul McCartney. For its ninth outing, Apple is rebranding it to give more exposure to its recently launched streaming music service. In September, the newly christened Apple Music Festival will headline 10 artists; so far, Pharrell Williams, One Direction, Florence + The Machine, and Disclosure are confirmed to perform live.

“We wanted to do something really special for music fans this year,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services in a press release. “The Apple Music Festival is a greatest hits set of ten unbelievable nights featuring some of the best performers on the planet appearing live and interacting directly with their fans on Connect and Beats 1.”

The festival will take place over ten nights from September 19-28 at London’s Roundhouse venue; each night is dedicated to a headliner and a special opening guest. As of today, only One Direction have selected its opening act–English girl group Little Mix. Tickets will be offered for free exclusively to London residents. If you’re Stateside or anywhere else around the world for that matter, you can still watch the concerts live via Apple Music (on an iOS device), iTunes (on PC and Mac) and Apple TV. In addition, Zane Lowe and his team of DJs on Beats 1 will air coverage from the festival, and participating performers will be posting backstage content on their Apple Music Connect pages.

Apple claims that iTunes Music Festival musicians have played in front of more than half a million fans and tens of millions more online and on-demand. With the proliferation of Apple Music subscribers (who’ll continue to use the streaming service for free until Sept. 30), I’ll bet that those numbers increase exponentially this fall when the Apple Music Festival jams out across iPhones, iPads, iPods, computers, and Apple TV.

Update (9/2): Apple’s announced more headliners and openers for this month’s Apple Music Festival. English pop group Take That, “I Can’t Feel My Face” singer The Weeknd, and British electronic dance music band The Chemical Brothers are the latest headliners to join the lineup. As far as new openers are concerned, Pharrell has picked Leon Bridges to warm up his crowd, and Florence + The Machine will introduce James Bay before taking over the stage. Will update this post as more performers are added.