TIME 2015 Super Bowl

The Ad That Changed Super Bowl Commercials Forever

How "The Force" has remained the most shared Super Bowl ad of all-time

In 2011, on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl, a new Volkswagen commercial popped up on YouTube. “The Force” featured a kid ambling about his house dressed as Star Wars’ Darth Vader while attempting to use the Dark Side on everything from the family dog to the new Passat sitting in the driveway.

From the early 1980s—when Super Bowl ads became as anticipated as the game itself—until that moment, advertisers generally kept their spots under wraps, careful not to jeopardize the big reveal. But for the 2011 Super Bowl, Volkswagen was in a bind. The company had bought two 30-second spots—one for “The Force,” advertising the new Passat, and another called “Black Beetle,” showing off the new Jetta, both created by the ad agency Deutsch. But everyone involved felt a 60-second version of “The Force” was their best work. It was just too long to play during the game.

VW’s marketing team also knew they were facing big obstacles on game day: the company hadn’t run a Super Bowl ad in over a decade, and the two commercials they planned to run would be competing against multiple spots from larger automakers with more ad dollars. So they decided that one possible way to stand out was to release “The Force” early, even though it defied what was widely accepted as smart advertising strategy around the biggest ad day of the year.

“It’s hard to think about now, but at the time, it was not the conventional wisdom to air or put online a commercial that was meant for the Super Bowl,” says Tim Ellis, who was the head of marketing for Volkswagen North America at the time and is now the chief marketing officer for video game maker Activision. “The wisdom was you hold it, because you would get the most value out of that impression by waiting.”

Ellis says it was a controversial decision to run it early, even among the ad agency and VW’s marketing team. “But I thought if everything goes right, this thing will catch fire and go viral,” he says.

By 8 a.m. Thursday, “The Force” had been viewed 1.8 million times on YouTube and had racked up 17 million views before kickoff, according to figures provided by Deutsch. Today, “The Force” has 61 million views on YouTube and is still the most shared Super Bowl ad of all-time and the second most shared TV commercial ever.

“It paid for itself before it ever ran,” says Mike Sheldon, CEO of Deutsch North America.

MORE 5 Ways This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Will Be Like No Other

The ad’s runaway success changed how advertisers approach Super Bowl Sunday ever since. Instead of standalone spots, Super Bowl ads have become the anchors of extended marketing campaigns with vast social media presences often launched weeks before the game. This year, more than 20 brands have already released their full Super Bowl ads or special teasers for them.

“Super Bowl advertising has changed fundamentally,” says Tim Calkins, a Northwestern University marketing professor. “It’s gone from being a one-time event to a months-long marketing campaign.”

For years, the Super Bowl ad was a fleeting thing. 1984—the Apple ad still widely considered the greatest Super Bowl commercial—aired just twice, once in 10 local outlets on Dec. 31, 1983, and once more during the game the following month.

As the audience for the game grew, brands expanded their Super Bowl marketing budgets (think Budweiser’s talking frogs and Pepsi’s splashy productions with Ray Charles and Cindy Crawford). During the first Super Bowl, the average cost of a 30-second spot was $40,000 ($280,000 when adjusted for inflation). This year, NBC is charging $4.5 million, and at least one NBC executive claims that the exposure brands get during the Super Bowl is closer to $10 million in value. And as our media consumption habits have been transformed by social networks and mobile devices, a Super Bowl ad now needs to resonate on social media to be considered successful. Budweiser, for example, has launched the social media campaign #BestBuds urging people to help a rancher find his lost puppy in its latest spot, and Pepsi and ShopTV will send out tweets during Katy Perry’s halftime performance with links for viewers to buy related merchandise.

“What was just a bunch of 30-, 60-second TV commercials, everybody now has turned this into a full-on social media integrated play,” Deutsch’s Sheldon says. “I don’t look at Super Bowl ads as TV commercials. The Super Bowl is a social media and PR phenomenon that has a number of integrated components in which one is a TV commercial.”

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This photo of a kid dressed as Darth Vader inside a Burger King inspired the creative team at Deutsch as they were making “The Force” ad. Courtesy of Deutsch

More than any other ad agency, Deutsch appears to have been the first to recognize that new paradigm. Back in 2010, when the agency won a bid to develop the TV campaign for Volkswagen’s Jetta and Passat lines, employees in Deutsch’s Los Angeles offices had placed funny photos above their four-color copy machine, one of which was a kid in a Darth Vader costume sulking inside a Burger King. That inspired the company’s creative team to come up with a spot featuring a similar kid dressed as the Star Wars villain who keeps failing in his attempts to use the Force around his home until he succeeds in turning on his dad’s new Volkswagen (the assist from his dad, who actually turned on the car, was a clever way to tout the Passat’s new remote starter). It was a perfect combination: the enduring popularity of Star Wars, childhood nostalgia, touching moments between a father and son, a narrative arc that went tidily from conflict to resolution, and plenty of humor thanks to a 6-year-old dressed as a notorious movie villain.

“If you don’t have all of these ingredients, the spot really doesn’t work,” says Tom Else, Deutsch’s VW account director.

Deutsch executives say it was a rare spot where there were essentially no changes or edits coming from inside creative or from the client.

“Very early on we knew it was extraordinary, but you can never predict what the world thinks is fantastic,” Else says.

Soon after it launched, “The Force” became the most shared TV spot of all-time, according to Unruly, which tracks and analyzes viral videos. The ad held the top spot for three years, until July 2014, when it was knocked off by a music video sponsored by yogurt brand Activia and featuring the singer Shakira. But “The Force” is still considered the most shared Super Bowl ad of all time.

“Every decade or so, there’s lightning in a bottle,” says Matt Jarvis, chief strategy officer of ad agency 72andSunny, which produced a popular Super Bowl ad for Samsung in 2013 and created a spot for Carl’s Jr. this year. “And I think this is one of those cases.”

Jarvis says “The Force” successfully used a combination of both earned media—YouTube hits, for example—along with paid media, such as a 15-second teaser spot that aired on “Saturday Night Live” the night before the game, to create momentum that continued through the Super Bowl.

“It was about building that wave and then riding that wave,” Ellis says.

It helped that the ad contained all the components of a viral hit. Unruly recently group-tested “The Force” and found that it still resonated with viewers, discovering that it hit five of 10 “social motivators” that Unruly’s execs say trigger people to share something. They found that viewers sent the ad to others in part because it reflected a shared passion with someone else (love for Star Wars, for instance) and that sharers believed it could be useful (their friend might be looking for a new car). But Unruly also found that it resonated on a more gut level, eliciting feelings of joy and surprise when the kid “turns on” the car, which researchers says is a key component in motivating us to share.

MORE Budweiser’s Super Bowl Ad About a Lost Puppy is an Emotional Roller Coaster

“It’s a great example of emotion,” says Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, adding that the peaks and valleys of the kid failing and finally succeeding, as well as the nostalgia it can elicit, are the main triggers for why it went viral.

After “The Force’s” success, Deutsch sensed that other advertisers would start releasing their ads early as well. So in 2012, the agency released the first full-length ad for an ad when it launched The Bark Side, which included dogs bark-singing Star Wars’ Imperial March. For the game, it released The Dog Strikes Back as its official Super Bowl ad, which again included the Darth Vader Kid from the previous year’s commercial. Both ads have remained in Unruly’s top 20 viral Super Bowl ads of all-time.

Since “The Force,” advertisers have increasingly created teaser ads, alternate versions of their Super Bowl commercials, or have released the ad in its entirety early. Among this year’s efforts to gin up early buzz are a T-Mobile spot featuring Kim Kardashian, a teaser for a Nationwide ad with actress Mindy Kaling, and a Bud Light spot that debuted on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.” Dove, meanwhile, posted a version of its ad almost two weeks before the game, while Lexus released its full ad more than two weeks before Super Bowl Sunday.

MORE Watch a Dude Run Through a Life-Size Pac-Man Game in Bud Light’s Super Bowl Ad

There are now essentially three groups of brands competing during the Super Bowl: those who release their ads early, those who tease their ads, and those who keep the ads a surprise. Northwestern’s Calkins says that for most advertisers, getting out early is often the best strategy.

“The Super Bowl builds over a matter of weeks, so if you’re a marketer, you have an opportunity to engage with customers for seven, 14, 21 days,” Calkins says. “You can really get some mileage from your creative.”

The challenge for Super Bowl advertisers, Calkins says, is twofold: breaking through the noise and saying something important about the product. “The hard thing is doing both of those things at the same time,” he says. “Ideally, you come up with an ad as charming as ‘The Force’ that also delivers a product benefit. But that is incredibly difficult to do.”

This year, Deutsch is working on two ads: one for mobile battery company mophie, and the other for Sprint. The company released the mophie spot on Thursday:

It’s designed to be understood even if you can’t hear the TV over loud and rowdy friends. “If you’re relying on some sort of audio or voice gag, it can get missed,” Sheldon says. “You can run that spot with no audio and you get the joke.”

But Deutsch is going in a different direction with its Sprint ad. While the agency has created a teaser, the actual ad won’t be released before the Super Bowl. The hope is that it can distinguish itself by swimming against the tide the agency helped create.

“When everybody else is screaming, the one whispering stands out,” Sheldon says. “It has a different volume than others. We’re breaking our own rules a little bit. It’s the kind of spot that you wouldn’t want to release early.”

Read next: 49 Super Bowl Facts You Should Know Before Super Bowl XLIX

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TIME Reviews

This Is the Best TV You Can Buy Right Now

Sony X950B Series Sony

The Sony X900B series has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

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If you’re looking for a really great, solid TV, the Sony X900B series is the one we recommend for most people, plus it has near universal praise from the top reviewers. It has a colorful, rich, vibrant image that is lauded by experts from across the web. It has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market, and has few (if any) real issues.

It is, however, very expensive: $2,800 for a 55-inch television. So if you don’t absolutely need the best picture quality available today, we have a cheaper recommendation too.

Who should get this TV?

Someone looking for the best picture quality currently available without spending even more per-screen-inch on an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV.

If you just want a good-looking TV, one that doesn’t have quite the X900B’s contrast, brightness, or resolution, check out our pick for Best $500 TV.

If you’re looking for something bigger, consider a projector in $500, $1,000, or $2,500 “Awesome” forms. These will give you a great and significantly larger image than any TV.

Our pick

The Sony X900B starts at about $2,800 for the 55” version. It has an incredibly dark black level compared to the rest of the competition, creating a powerfully contrasty image. It’s less like you’re watching a TV, and more just a movie floating in your room. The colors are lifelike and accurate. While there are many great TVs on the market this year, in review after review, the X900B edges out the others (often by just not doing anything wrong).

It also has great sound quality thanks to a rather large, built-in speaker array. Think of it as having a halfway-decent soundbar built into the TV. Those without an existing setup will appreciate the fact that it actually sounds good, but if you already have a sound system, it’s just an unnecessary added expense that takes up extra space.

David Katzmaier, from CNET, gave the X900B 3.5/5 stars, including a score of 9/10 for performance (though only 5/10 for value). In his review, he says “the Sony XBR-X900B series provides the best picture quality of any 4K TV we’ve tested so far, competing well against the better plasmas.”

Who else likes it? Robert Heron reviewed the X900B for HDGuru.com, concluding, “as a product that delivers an audio and visual experience with 4K, HD, and streaming sources, I cannot think of another LCD television that has impressed my ears and eyes more than the Sony XBR-X900B series.”

The X900B comes in 55- ($2,800), 65- ($3,800), and massive 79-inch models ($8,000).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Those ears, man. Those ears. Each side of the X900B’s screen features big speakers. They’re incorporated well, but make the TV much bigger than it needs to be, and are rather useless for anyone adding a soundbar or surround sound system (which we always recommend). You’re not paying extra for the speakers (at least not any meaningful amount), so it’s really just the aesthetics that are the issue.

The X900B is also on the expensive side. With the demise of plasma, the sweet, sweet low-priced, high-performing television is gone. LCDs that were close to plasma’s picture quality were always much more expensive. They needed features like local dimming and high refresh rates to compete with plasma’s inherent strengths. So the next step down, into what we’ll call the “mid-range” of LCDs on the market (say, $1,000-$1,500 for a 60-inch), is a big step down in price, and a fairly sizeable step in picture quality.

A Budget Pick

If the X900B is out of your price range, check out the Vizio M-series ($1,150 for a 60-inch). It’s not perfect, but there’s no single standout for the “best” mid-range LCD. The M-series offers very good picture quality, a little better than its competitors, and is a great price for its size.

There are two main issues with the M-series. The first is its motion resolution, which means objects that move onscreen, like a car driving from the left of the screen to the right, will blur more than a stationary background. And Consumer Reports says the motion blur reduction feature “also activates the smooth-motion effect that gives movies a “video-like appearance.”

That “smooth-motion effect” is also called the Soap Opera Effect (SOE), which many (including me) can’t stand. It makes everything look like an ultra-smooth soap opera. This is often the tradeoff with LCDs: poor motion resolution, or SOE. Some higher-end TVs have additional settings that reduce motion blur but don’t cause SOE, but the M-series doesn’t have those. Sports and gaming won’t look weird with SOE enabled, but movies and TV shows will. If you’re bothered by motion blurring, and you hate SOE, but don’t want a plasma (which don’t have this issue), consider the Samsung H6350.

The other issue with the M-series is that it’s only a little better-looking than Vizio’s less expensive E-series. CNET thinks “[the] picture is not significantly better than less-expensive E-Series.” They rate the two the same, Consumer Reports gives one extra tick to the M-series. So if you want to save a little money, the E-series is about 30% cheaper for only slightly worse picture quality. The consensus is the M-series does look a little better, though.

If money is no object…

OLED technology has been on the cusp of a breakthrough for many, many years. OLED’s biggest improvement over plasma and LCD is an even better contrast ratio, which is the most important part of a TV’s picture quality. The contrast ratio on OLED is effectively infinite. The image is better—it’s more lifelike and “window-to-another-world” than you’ve ever seen on any TV technology.

At an MSRP of $3,500, this year’s OLED, the LG 55EC9300, is significantly cheaper than last year’s, which was $15,000 when first available (that model is now on clearance at $3,200).

CNET’s David Katzmaier is effusive in his praise of the new TV, saying in his review that it has “the best picture quality” of any TV he’s reviewed, with “perfect” black levels, and “exceedingly bright whites.”

Our take on 4K TV Ultra High Definition TVs

Yes, our pick is a 4K TV, but we didn’t pick it for that reason—it’s a beautiful TV, that just happens to also be 4K. Resolution, in itself, isn’t a reason to upgrade your TV; it’s just one aspect of picture quality. The best 4K TVs do look good, but that’s because they also have all the best technologies their manufacturers can put in them (local dimming, etc). Cheap 4K TVs only have resolution going for them, so you’re getting a mediocre TV. Or to put it another way, you’re getting a Kia with Pirelli P-Zeros on it. It’s still a Kia. Wouldn’t you rather a Porsche for a little more money?

Further, the claims about an increase in picture quality due to the increase in resolution are somewhat dubious as well. Your eye can’t resolve the increased resolution in anything but very large screen sizes. Wirecutter contributor Chris Heinonen has an excellent 4K calculator to determine if you’ll get any benefit going with a higher-than-HD resolution display. Basically, if you’re sitting where most people are (9 or 10 feet from your TV), then you’ll need way more than 70-inch TVs before you even start to see a difference.

For a 50-to-60-inch TV, 4K is just going to be a waste of money, unless you’re sitting really, really close. If you want to dive into the science behind it, check out my articles over at CNET.

Wrapping it up

If you’re looking for the best TV, I recommend the Sony X900B in 55-, 65-, and 79-inch sizes. It has the best picture available right now. Too expensive? Check out Vizio’s M-series.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

MONEY deals

Free ‘Transparent’ Streaming, Cheap Amazon Prime on Saturday

Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent
Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent Beth Dubber—© Amazon/Courtesy Everett Colle

Amazon already has tens of millions of subscribers to Amazon Prime. But Amazon wants more, and it's using a Transparent-Golden Globes-themed promotion on Saturday to win them over.

A report surfaced last autumn estimating that as many as 50 million people were members of Amazon Prime, the $99-per-year subscription service that includes two-day shipping on most purchases and unlimited streaming of video and music content. Mind you, that was before the 2014 holiday shopping season, during which Amazon reported some 10 million new members had signed up for Prime.

Previous studies have indicated that Amazon actually loses money on Prime due to all the shipping costs incurred by frequent shoppers. Yet Prime is undeniably a powerful revenue driver for the world’s largest retailer, because of the tendency of subscribers to make nearly all of their online purchases at Amazon once they’ve paid for a membership. Hence Amazon’s relentless push to boost Prime subscriptions at any and every opportunity.

And hence the latest Amazon promotion, which on Saturday grants everyone with an Internet connection free streaming of Transparent, the ground-breaking Golden Globe-winning comedy normally only available to Prime subscribers. Besides celebrating the success of Transparent and lead actor Jeffrey Tambor at the Golden Globes, the idea of airing the show for all to see is surely also a pitch to snag more Prime members. The implicit sales pitch being: Just look at the kinds of things you’d get to watch regularly if you were a Prime member!

What’s more, Amazon is giving Prime extra appeal by knocking the usual $99 price of a subscription down to $72 on Saturday, January 24. Why 72? Again, it has to do with the Golden Globes—the most recent awards were the 72nd in history.


Here’s What’s Coming to Netflix in February


House of Cards season 3 is the most-anticipated show hitting Netflix next month

Netflix is losing a spate of James Bond movies next month, but making up for it with the brand new season of House of Cards and the first five seasons of MASH, which all arrive in February. Here’s a list of the new and noteworthy movies and TV shows coming soon to the streaming service:

House of Cards Season 3
Richie Rich Season 1
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
The Brothers Bloom
White Bird in the Blizzard
Hawaii Five-0 Seasons 1-4
MASH Seasons 1-5
Spartacus, the Complete Series
King Arthur
Earth to Echo
Young Ones


Derek Hough Leaves Dancing With the Stars for Season 20

The Weinstein Company And Netflix Golden Globes After Party - Arrivals
Derek Hough attends the 2015 Weinstein Company and Netflix Golden Globes After Party at Robinsons May Lot in Los Angeles on Jan. 11, 2015 JB Lacroix—WireImage

Sorry, Dancing with the Stars fans, but your favorite blue-eyed ballroom champion will not be returning to the dancefloor for the 20th cycle of the show.

Instead, Derek Hough will be headed to Radio City Music Hall to star opposite Tony award-winning actress Laura Benanti in “New York Spring Spectacular” beginning March 12. He will play the role of Jack in the short-run production with opening night scheduled for March 26.

Hough has won the coveted DWTS mirrorball trophy a record five times with his celebrity partners including Glee star Amber Riley and Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey. He even earned an Emmy in 2013 for his choreography on the show.

But never fear, Hough will return to the show in the fall.

This article originally appeared on EW.com


These Are the 25 Best Minor Characters on Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation - Season 6
NBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

There’s almost too much to love about Parks and Recreation, which kicks off its seventh (and final—sniff!) season tonight on NBC. That’s largely because Parks isn’t just a show about a ragtag group of quirky local government employees. Instead, it’s a series that takes place in a kooky, self-contained comic universe, one filled to bursting with secondary, tertiary, and even quaternary characters—many of whom are comic heavyweights on par with the show’s main cast. (Just call Pawnee, Indiana the live-action Springfield, State TK.)

Which made compiling the following a real challenge. How do you pare down the list to include just 25 characters, let alone pick a number one? After deciding on our criteria (recurring characters who have appeared in three make that two or more episodes only—which means favorites like Parker Posey’s Lindsay Carlisle Shay were unfortunately out) and scientifically averaging the contents of eight separate staffer rankings, here’s what we came up with. Spoiler: The competition was so fierce that Councilman Jamm didn’t even make the finals.

25. Barney Varmn
Played by: John Balma
Money quote: “And that concludes a quick look at QuickBook…s Pro.”

With their mutual love of spreadsheets and accounting puns, Ben and Barney are an accounting dream team. Their partnership never lasts long, but while it does, it’s beautiful. —Kelly Connolly

24. Detlef Schrempf
Played by: Detlef Schrempf
Money quote: “He had two beers. Light beers.”

The real-life former Indiana Pacer is a celebrity around Pawnee. He just wants to promote his charities and maybe share some financial advice, but he always seems to wind up taking care of Tom. Score one for athletes whose onscreen work makes us laugh—intentionally. —Kelly Connolly

23. Chief Ken Hotate
Played by: Jonathan Joss
Money quote: “There are two things I know about white people: They love Matchbox 20, and they are terrified of curses.”

Whether he’s playing up curses or forcing Councilman Jamm to wear a headdress, Wamapoke Chief Ken Hotate “really plays white people like a fiddle.” —Kelly Connolly

22. Dennis Feinstein
Played by: Jason Mantzoukas
Money quote: “Wear whatever you want, as long as it’s not too bright or reflective. You know, I want you blending in to the surroundings. How fast can you run?”

As Tom once said: “His real name is Dante Fiero, but he changed it to Dennis Feinstein, ’cause that’s way more exotic in Pawnee.” The perfume mogul has a Rolexus, which is a Lexus full of Rolexes. (“What’s the point of that?” “To have it. Which he does.”) He’s everything Tom wants to be, aside from the fact that he likes to hunt people. —Kelly Connolly

21. Brandi Maxx
Played by: Mara Marini
Money quote: “Hello everyone, I’m Brandi Maxxxx, star of such films as The Incredible Burt Wonderbone, A Good Guy to Lay Hard, and Argo. I had a small part in Argo.”

Pawnee’s resident porn star keeps busy, and not just by starring in hundreds of films a year. She’s such an active member of the community that she runs for City Council, where she can’t stop comparing herself to Leslie—because, you know, all women in politics are basically interchangeable. —Kelly Connolly

20. Greg Pikitis
Played by: Cody Klop
Money quote: “I like Knope. I screw with her because she gets all riled up, and her face gets all scrunched up.”

Greg Pikitis quickly became the bane of Leslie’s existence when he started pulling elaborate pranks on Halloween night, as revealed in season 2. The troublemaking teen reduced FBI agent Burt Macklin to tears, and managed to make Leslie hold a lifelong grudge against him—but we’d welcome his masterfully plotted antics anytime. —Jonathon Dornbush

19. Tammy 1
Played by: Patricia Clarkson

Money quote: “Sit up straight. You’re not doing your breasts any favors.”
Whereas Tammy 2 brought out Ron’s wild side, the much scarier Tammy 1 kept Ron on a tight leash, treating him more like a son than a husband. It all makes sense once you’ve seen Ron’s actual mother. —Jonathon Dornbush

18. Kyle
Played by: Andy Forrest
Money quote: This one comes from Jerry: “Stop being so pretentious, Kyle.”

Before Andy became a big shot in the Parks department, he was shining shoes in City Hall—and he almost always managed to treat city attorney Kyle poorly. Essentially the Jerry of the shoe shine stand, Kyle couldn’t help but make a mess of things—even if actually, it was usually Andy’s fault. —Jonathon Dornbush

17. Lucy
Played by: Natalie Morales
Money quote: “My father told me that a limp handshake was for weak men and communists. He hated both.”

Lucy was the best thing that ever happened to Tom—someone smart and sensible who was willing to deal with all of his crazy schemes. For Tom’s sake, hopefully their reunion in season 7 lasts longer than a few minutes on the streets of Chicago. —Jonathon Dornbush

16. Bobby Newport
Played by: Paul Rudd
Money quote: “I guess my thoughts on abortion are, you know, let’s all just have a good time.”

Paul Rudd takes his affable, childlike charm to the extreme with Bobby Newport, who’s led such a rich and spoiled life that he decided to run for Pawnee City Council out of boredom. He’s the least threatening opponent Leslie has ever faced, which makes it easy to love him—even though he probably should never be given responsibility over anything. Ever. —Jonathon Dornbush

15. Councilman Dexhart
Played by: Kevin Symons
Money quote: “Furthermore, it was wrong of me to say I was building houses for the underprivileged when I was actually having four-way sex in a cave in Brazil. In my defense, it was my birthday, and I really wanted to do it.”

Councilman Dexhart’s sex scandal ushered in a new word for Webster: text-mexting. We can’t wait to see what trouble he gets into this season. —Megan Daley

14. Diane Lewis
Played by: Lucy Lawless
Money quote: “I’m a middle school vice-principal. I deal with hormonal psychopaths all the time.”

Solid, grounded Diane is the complete opposite of the Tammys, and exactly what Pawnee’s manliest resident needed. Who doesn’t like seeing Ron actually happy? —Megan Daley

13. Crazy Ira and The Douche
Played by: Matt Besser and Nick Kroll
Money quote: Guess which one: “I used my classic pick-up line: ‘If you’re looking for douches, they’re in aisle me.’”

Crazy Ira and the Douche: Two of the biggest fictional tools on television. (We couldn’t help ranking them together; they’re a packaged deal, like Salt n Pepa.) As Leslie once said, “I never knew that objectifying women could be so much fun!” —Megan Daley

12. Derry Murbles
Played by: Dan Castellaneta
Money quote: “Leslie, could one say that a book is nothing more than a painting of words, which are the notes on the tapestry of the greatest film ever sculpted?”

The Thoughts for Your Thoughts host’s voice isn’t the only reason to love him; he was also able to shut down his Eagleton co-host without popping a vein. You’re a warrior, Derry. —Megan Daley

11. Ethel Beavers
Played by: Helen Slayton-Hughes
Money quote: “The official record has now annoyingly been reopened so that Leslie Knope can make a statement.”

The court stenographer/sass machine probably got more action on that show than anyone else, and she didn’t care who knew it. —Megan Daley

10. Mona Lisa Saperstein
Played by: Jenny Slate
Money quote: “I love you too, Daddy. Money, pleeeease!”

If Jean-Ralphio says his twin sister is the worst, you know she must be the worst. It also means she’s great—just not in a way that would be palatable if she were a person in real life. —Esther Zuckerman

9. Orin
Played by: Eric Isenhower
Money quote: [blank stare]

Leave it to April to be friends with Pawnee’s creepiest resident. Leslie may not approve of Orin, and he may be terrifying, but take it from Ludgate: He’s a genius. —Esther Zuckerman

8. Dr. Saperstein
Played by: Henry Winkler
Money quote: “Dear Tom: I win. You suck.” [on the other side of the note] “You still suck.”

To Tom, he’s a business competitor. To Ben, Leslie, Ann, and Chris, he’s an obstetrician. To everyone, he’s entirely too forgiving of his terrible, terrible children, Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa. Also: played by the Fonz, which is an automatic bonus. —Esther Zuckerman

7. Dave Sanderson
Played by: Louis C.K.
Money quote: “I like Miss Knope. I gotta say when I first met her, I didn’t care much for her, because, like 99 percent of the people in any given day of my life, she was very belligerent and disagreeable. Miss Knope was attractive to me as a man. I was attracted to her in her demeanor. I was attracted to her in a sexual manner that was appropriate. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Yes, Leslie’s soulmate is Ben Wyatt. But her relationship with Dave Sanderson (the always-wonderful C.K., before he had become a household name) was also heartwarming. Dave wasn’t as articulate as Leslie, nor was he necessarily worth leaving Pawnee for—but his deadpan, by-the-books delivery and composure made him a great foil for her. Too bad the show turned him into a creep when he reappeared in “Dave Returns.” —Esther Zuckerman

6. Champion
Played by: A dog named Lucy
Money quote: Andy: “He can do more with three legs than most dogs can do with four.” April: “Except for digging. He’s really bad at digging.”

Though April and Andy’s canine companion may not be as widely beloved as Li’l Sebastian, he’s still an amazing three-legged beast—and he also inspires plenty of great comedy from the humans surrounding him. He is, after all, the “Dog World Champion.” —Esther Zuckerman

5. Joan Callamezzo
Played by: Mo Collins
Money quote: “I’m gonna go powder my nose… amongst other things. If you know what I mean.”

Pawnee’s local muckraker has been stirring things up since she stole her gym teacher’s husband when she was 18 years old—and although making a trip to her show pretty much guarantees seeing your (totally fabricated) dirty laundry get aired, you can’t help but admire her commitment to making even the most mundane story sound like the juciest tabloid scandal. Here’s hoping she gets back on her feet after the time jump. —Hillary Busis

4. Tammy 2
Played by: Megan Mullally
Money quote: “Have you ever messed with a man’s head just to see what you can get him to do for you? We do it all the time, in the library department.”

Question: What’s it like to stare into the eye of Satan’s butthole? Answer: Surprisingly hilarious, thanks mostly to the antics of Ron’s second ex-wife—a bespectacled, psychotic minx played by Nick Offerman’s real-life partner. Nobody can wind up Ron quite like she can… which is probably a good thing. —Hillary Busis

3. Perd Hapley
Played by: Jay Jackson
Money quote: “I’m about to ask you a question right now, and that question… is this.”

I mean. What more is there to say about TV’s most gloriously inept and obtuse local newsman, except that every single thing he says is pure, unadulterated comedy gold? That’s thanks mostly to Jackson’s ace delivery—even though the actor himself insists he’s “not a funny guy at all.” Sure you aren’t, Perd—sure you aren’t. —Hillary Busis

2. Li’l Sebastian
Played by: A beautiful angel who has come to Earth in the body of a miniature horse
Money quote: Remember that time he whinnied?

Ben Wyatt doesn’t “get” him—but everyone else in Pawnee does. The dearly departed quadruped was so much more than just a cute horse—he was the town’s mascot, an icon, a symbol of all that is pure and good and soooo cuuuuuute. He had an honorary degree from Notre Dame, for Pete’s sake! And, of course, he also gets bonus points for inspiring “5000 Candles in the Wind,” the best damn song MouseRat ever unleashed. Sniff. We still miss you, li’l buddy. —Hillary Busis

1. Jean-Ralphio
Played by: Ben Schwartz
Money quote: “Hope you brought a change of clothes, ’cause your eyes are about to piss tears.”

Tom’s best buddy and business partner was designed to be the most irritating man in the universe—but his hair’s so swag, his rhymes are so sick, and his entire persona is so awesomely pathetic (or pathetically awesome?) that we always want more of him (and of course, to dance up on him). He’s number one, even if technically, he’s homeless. —Hillary Busis

This article originally appeared on EW.com

TIME Television

CBS Sets Premiere for Late Show With Stephen Colbert

David Letterman will broadcast his final show in May

Stephen Colbert will make his CBS debut this fall.

As for what format the new Late Show will take, CBS boss Nina Tassler said at the Television Critics Association’s winter TV previews that Colbert’s team has only just begun to work things out. “They’ve actually just moved into their offices,” she said. “They’ve just started working. He will have music on the show. He said, ‘I have to be entertaining as my guests,’ so he’s going to have guests on the show. Whether or not he’s going to start with a monologue, he’s working on that right now. Clearly he knows that he’s introducing himself, the real Stephen Colbert to his audience. He’s really putting a lot of attention on making sure that the show is still topical and still relevant.”

After 22 years, David Letterman will broadcast his final show from the historic Ed Sullivan Theater on Wednesday, May 20. Tassler noted that the network plans to air encores of its original programming throughout the summer in the 11:35 p.m. time slot, and may be interested in some Letterman specials leading up to his retirement.

This article originally appeared on EW.com.

TIME Television

Netflix to Launch Wet Hot American Summer Sequel Series

'Wet Hot American Summer' USA Films

The all-star returning cast includes Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd

Grab your short shorts and pop a stick of gum because Netflix is moving forward with its Wet Hot American Summer sequel series

As first reported by Deadline.com, practically the entire cast of the film will reunite for an eight-episode series, with filming starting this week. The now all-star cast includes Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks, H. Jon Benjamin, Michael Ian Black, Judah Friedlander, Janeane Garofalo, Nina Hellman, Ken Marino, Zak Orth, David Hyde Pierce, Joe Lo Truglio, A.D. Miles, Marguerite Moreau, Marisa Ryan, Molly Shannon, Michael Showalter and Kevin Sussman.

Details on the series are being kept under wraps, but David Wain’s original 2001 film took place on the last day of summer camp in 1981. Here’s hoping the series will touch on the counselors’ promise to reunite a decade later.

Days prior to the announcement, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos played coy when asked about the series at the Television Critics Association’s winter TV previews. “We’re really excited about the proposition of getting that show together,” he said. “Stay tuned.”

This article originally appeared on EW.com.


Empire: Inside Fox’s Ambitious, Groundbreaking Musical Soap

FOX's "Empire" - Season One

William Shakespeare. Sean “Puffy” Combs. Alexis Carrington. This pop culture threesome doesn’t usually come up in conversation—unless you’re talking to the creators of Fox’s new drama Empire. While driving around L.A., writer Danny Strong heard a story about Combs on the radio and instantly began brainstorming a movie about a hip-hop mogul and his family. “The whole idea just flooded through my head: I’d do it like King Lear or The Lion in Winter,” says Strong. “Make the main character like a dying king, and he’s got three sons. Then my next thought was ‘I think I need to call Lee Daniels.’ ” Strong had just worked with the director on 2013’s The Butler; Daniels loved the concept but wanted one major change. “I said, ‘I miss Dynasty and I would love to see a black Dynasty,’ ” Daniels recalls of the Joan Collins-led prime-time soap. “And off we went!”

But Empire is more than just big hair, sequined gowns, and catfights—it’s one of the most ambitious new dramas of 2015. In the first episode, Lucious Lyon (Oscar nominee Terrence Howard), a rapper–turned–music mogul, is diagnosed with ALS and given three years to live. He must choose one of his three sons—hardworking Andre (Trai Byers), artistic Jamal (Jussie Smollett), or immature Hakeem (Bryshere Gray)—to take over the family business. But Lucious also has to deal with the return of his live-wire ex-wife, Cookie (Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson), who is getting out of prison after 17 years and wants half the company.

The series is also an exploration of the music industry, which means it boasts posh locations, insider industry gossip, and more animal print than the San Diego Zoo. Plus, it addresses social issues such as drug abuse and homophobia. Oh, and did we mention it’s a musical? Sprinkled throughout each of the episodes are original songs produced by hitmaker Timbaland and performed by the show’s cast. This is no small endeavor—and it’s one that other networks have spectacularly failed at delivering. (See: Smash.) “It’s terrifying,” Daniels says of his first foray into television. “The pace is incredible. It’s a completely different world I knew nothing of, and it’s terrifying but exhilarating.”

Part of the excitement comes from the feeling that this series is a bold step forward for the network. “It’s a nighttime drama about an African-American family and about African-American culture that largely hasn’t been portrayed on television before,” says executive producer and showrunner Ilene Chaiken (The L Word). But this also brings a certain level of scrutiny for Empire. “Knowing Fox, a company that’s not known for producing black-centered programming, has put $50 to $60 million into this idea and into this world, there’s huge pressure on that,” says Howard. But, he adds, “a diamond is just a piece of coal that does well under pressure.”

Every kingdom needs rulers, and Fox execs knew that they’d need heavyweights to lead Empire to victory. But when they initially reached out to Henson, who was nominated for an Oscar for 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, she immediately said no. Henson had wrapped up two seasons of Person of Interest in 2013, and told her business team that she was done with TV. Then her manager passed along the script for Empire. “Cookie scares the hell outta me, which I like,” says the actress, 44. “I was like, ‘The NAACP is going to hate me! I won’t be vetted to come back to the White House!’ So that’s how I knew I had to do it!” In Henson’s hands, Cookie becomes a hot-blooded mother lion in Louboutins, sure to be the show’s most quoted character. For the role of her ex-husband, Lucious, producers had been looking at stars such as Wesley Snipes. But Henson had other ideas. During a Skype call, she issued an ultimatum: Cast her Hustle & Flow costar Howard, or she would walk away from Cookie (and that’s before she even officially got the role). “We have a trust level,” explains Henson about her relationship with Howard. “We have an amazing chemistry. I just knew the level we could take these two characters to.” For his part, Howard, 45, liked “the idea of being able to play the modern-day Fred Sanford turned rich and mixed with Archie Bunker.” Plus, he admits that working with Henson raises his own acting game. “Taraji thinks she’s a better actor than me, so it’s a straight-up war,” he says, laughing. “Taraji refuses to be outdone. The competition is extremely hot.”

Once the leading roles were squared away, Daniels needed to bring in someone to handle the musical elements. Since his taste runs more toward oldies (“I’m stuck in the world of Diana Ross and Donna Summer,” he says), the director turned to some trusted advisers: his kids. They told him he had to go with Timbaland. “So I called Tim up and I said, ‘Tim, I need you,’ ” says Daniels. “And he said, ‘Let’s rock and roll.’ We sat down, and the next day he gave me some music just based on the premise.”

While Empire is a musical, it’s rooted in reality. You won’t see characters just bursting into song when the mood strikes, the way they do on Fox’s last musical hit, Glee. Instead, viewers should expect more organic performances, similar to the country numbers on ABC’s Nashville. Chaiken and her writers give Timbaland an idea of where the plots are headed, and he helps craft songs that fit the themes. Columbia Records plans to release music from Empire each week on iTunes, the same strategy it employed with Glee. That show has racked up more than 64 million downloads in five years, a huge ancillary revenue stream for both the network and the label.

Empire is also set to tackle social issues. One major plotline this season centers on homophobia, particularly in the hip-hop community. Of the three sons, wildly talented middle child Jamal is gay. Lucious refuses to accept Jamal, while Cookie is determined to prove that an out gay black man can not only be a star but also run the empire. Daniels hopes that the story, loosely based on his own childhood with a homophobic father, will get people talking about a subject that is often taboo in African-American culture. “I know the impact it’s going to have in the community,” he says. “But doing it is a very scary thing because it’s talking about things that personally happened to you.”

At its core, though, the show is a soapy family drama. “The central story is the competition amongst the brothers,” says Chaiken. “Which one is going to emerge as the heir to the throne, and what’s going to happen to them along the way?” And at the same time, Cookie will attempt to build her own roster of artists, including one played by Courtney Love. “She used to be a huge, big star who made all this money for the label, and then she got into drugs and she fell off,” reveals Henson. “Cookie is going to try and revamp her career. [Love] is going to blow you away.”

“Go big or go home” could easily be the motto of Empire, but Daniels knows that he’s got some pretty over-the-top competition on TV. “I’m addicted to them damn Housewives,” he admits. “I had to do something to trump those bitches. It’s time for cinema to come to TV again! I gotta bring them down.” Alexis Carrington couldn’t have said it better.

This article originally appeared on EW.com


Meet the New Love Interest on Orange is the New Black

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's 2014 An Evening With Women
TV Personality / DJ Ruby Rose attends the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's 2014 An Evening With Women at The Beverly Hilton Hotel Paul Archuleta—FilmMagic

Ruby Rose is coming to season three of the Netflix hit

Litchfield Federal Correctional Institution is getting a new inmate, as Australian model, DJ and television presenter Ruby Rose joins season 3 of the Netflix hit Orange is the New Black.

The star announced the news via her Facebook page Tuesday, along with a picture of her profile in Elle.

“Ruby Rose, 28, oozes raw sex appeal even in an orange jumpsuit, as the newest inmate – and lust object of both Piper and Alex – at Litchfield Penitentiary on this summer’s third season of Orange Is the New Black,” the magazine reports.

On top of her many roles in the entertainment industry — also working as a VJ, recording artist, and having appeared with Christina Ricci in the 2013 film Around the Block — Rose is also a prominent LGBT activist. Her short film, Break Free, is about escaping gender roles. The five minute video has been viewed on YouTube 2 million times since its July release:

Buzzfeed reported that Ruby Rose’s character, Stella Carlin, will have a “sarcastic sense of humor and captivating looks” that “quickly draw the attention of some of Litchfield’s inmates.”

Read next: Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s Hilarious New Video Will Get You Pumped for the Golden Globes

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