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Camera gimmick dries up 'The River'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I hate the "found footage" genre of filmmaking - you know, the shaking camera, faux-reality story presentation of "The Blair Witch Project," "Paranormal Activity" and countless other horror movies.

I bring this up because that's the format for ABC's "The River," which premiered with two of its eight episodes at 9 p.m. Tuesday. It's unfortunate, because I really wanted to like the horror drama and was looking forward to the chills it promised. Instead, thanks largely to this gimmick, I hated it.

The story of a family and documentary crew tracking a missing nature explorer in the Amazon comes from Oren Peli, who wrote the "Paranormal Activity" films. He has said he originally envisioned the concept -- sans the family angle -- as a film, but Steven Spielberg, who executive produces the project, convinced him to turn it into a show. There are just eight episodes in this season (six remain after the premiere's double dose).

If Peli had stuck with his gut, I think the idea would have turned out much better. There are two major problems with trying to produce a horror story like this, which relies heavily on sudden scares, on TV: light and commercial breaks.

First, most people don't watch TV with the lights off like they would a movie in the theater. There are things in "The River" that will make some viewers jump in the comfort of their living room, but more people probably would be affected if they were experiencing them in a darkened theater.

Second, horror movies are all about pacing and building suspense. "The River" tries, but it's hard to maintain a sense of urgency when the scares are disrupted by commercial breaks.

If it were an interesting story with intriguing characters, I might be able to overlook that. But it's not. The characters fit both regular and horror film stereotypes, and they're stuck doing stereotypical, stupid things. (Someone welded the door shut to keep people out? Let's hack right on in without a second thought!)

Obviously, there has to be some suspension of disbelief, but since the whole point of found footage is to make it seem like this has been recovered from a real event, is it too much to ask to give the characters just a little bit of common sense?

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Series premieres: "Party Like," 8 p.m. today, National Geographic (recreating famous historical bashes); "Mudcats," 10 p.m. today, History (hand fishermen in Oklahoma); "Comic Book Men," 10 p.m. Sunday, AMC (Kevin Smith's comic book store); "Full Metal Jousting," 10 p.m. Sunday, History (real people really joust); "World's Toughest Trucker," 10 p.m. Monday, Discovery (dangerous driving competition).

Season premieres: "Swamp People," 9 p.m. today, History; "Parking Wars," 9 p.m. Saturday, A&E; "Billy the Exterminator," 10 p.m. Saturday, A&E; "My Strange Addiction," 10 p.m. Sunday, TLC; "Top Shot," 10 p.m. Monday, History; "Cougar Town," 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, ABC; "19 Kids and Counting," 9 p.m. Tuesday, TLC; "Survivor," 8 p.m. Wednesday, CBS.

Returning: "The Walking Dead," 9 p.m. Sunday, AMC (a marathon of the season thus far starts at 1:30 p.m.).

NBC timeslot changes: "The Firm," 9 p.m. Saturday (new drama "Awake" takes its Thursday spot soon); "Rock Center with Brian Williams," 9 p.m. Wednesday ("Harry's Law" returns in March on Sundays).

Season finales: "Teen Mom 2," 10 p.m. Tuesday, MTV; "Hot in Cleveland," 10 p.m. Wednesday, TV Land.

Specials: "Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown," 8 p.m. Saturday, ABC; "Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show," 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, USA and 9 p.m. Monday, CNBC; "2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Special," 8 p.m. Tuesday, VH1; "The Millionaire Matchmaker's Valentine's Day Special," 10 p.m. Tuesday, Bravo.

Awards shows: The Grammys, 8 p.m. Sunday, CBS; The BAFTA Awards, 8 p.m. Sunday, BBC America; BET Honors, 9 p.m. Monday, BET.

PBS specials: "A Conversation with Irene McKinney," 9 p.m. Friday and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (from 2005); "Michael Feinstein's American Songbook," 9:30 p.m. Friday; "Slavery by Another Name," 9 p.m. Monday (documentary based on eponymous Pulitzer Prize-winning book).

Of note: NASCAR driver Tony Stewart on "Last Man Standing," 8 p.m. Tuesday, ABC; Elisabeth Shue joins the cast of "CSI," 10 p.m. Wednesday, CBS.

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com.


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