Weekend Tech Scan: 'Hunger Games' and 'Mad Men' have got game

Two major media events this weekend are accompanied by Internet games. And look what Netflix and other sites, not the studios, are cooking up in new TV programming

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"The Hunger Games" is already an international phenomenon with libraries offering events tied to the movie release. Here, kids in Mosman, Australia, gather after a competition.

Two major media events this weekend are accompanied by Internet games. And look what Netflix and other sites, not the studios, are cooking up in new TV programming

Two of the biggest media events this year are taking place this weekend: The debut of The Hunger Games as a motion picture and, after a prolonged absence, the return of Mad Men to television.

Naturally, there are Internet games for both.   

The Hunger Games, the first film from a three-book series by Susan Collins, is already a pop cultural phenomenon. The film will be showing this weekend on more than 4,000 screens nationwide including, locally, the Regal Meridian 16, Cinerama Theater, and Pacific Science Center

If you’re not familiar with the premise, it’s the story of a frightening future North America: A power-crazed Capitol forces 12 districts that once rebelled against its authority to send two children annually from each district to fight against each other to the death. The competition is televised: a blood-thirsty TV reality show meant to be an annual reminder that rebellion is futile. The hero is a teen-age girl who fights to survive the games and is also the center of a romantic triangle.  

Originally written for teenage girls, Hunger Games has, according to some thinking, a financial potential akin to the Harry Potter craze, which cut across ages and genders and racked up an estimated $6.3 billion for the films, plus uncounted millions more in merchandising.

This weekend, Amazon.com is offering the first book in paperback or as a Kindle download for $5, or you can borrow it for free from Amazon if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

How do they play as games? It’s probably wise to have read the books first (I have, by the way), but if you just want to play the blood sport game, you can get a taste at the web site of Scholastic Books, where you can test your survival skills in the games.  “Test your abilities and see if you will be able to survive the real thing,” the site exhorts. “Remember, there is only one path to survival.” (Is it worth noting that Scholastic Press is best known for publishing children’s books? Probably not.). 

Moving on, here’s a Hunger Games trivia quiz, and a terrific parody on the College Humor website where giggly teenage girls play a faux “Hunger Games” board game where the rewards are ... death.

A more immersive experience, where you can become a member of the Capitol, take tours, receive Tweets from various book characters, listen to a single from the soundtrack by pop songstress Taylor Swift and more, is available here.  All you need to do is sign up with your Facebook or Twitter account.

The second big media event takes place on TV with the arrival of the long-delayed fifth season of Mad Men. The first episode is a two-hour special being aired on the AMC cable channel at both 6 and 8 pm (for Comcast/Xfinity viewers in Seattle: Ch. 67 for standard TV, Ch. 697 for HDTV).  Set in the 1960s, the show is about a fictional New York ad agency and a complex set of characters headed by the charismatic, flawed creative director whose messy life with his ex-wife, many mistresses, and colleagues is set against the social changes of the era.

It has won 15 Emmys, four Golden Globe awards, and scored as the Emmy outstanding drama in each of its four previous seasons. 

Surprisingly, no games based on Mad Men have emerged until now, but the one that became available on You Tube last week is a doozy.  Mad Men: The Game is the series done up as an old-style so-called 8-bit game.  The opening mimics the show’s opening in an old-school graphic style reminiscent of the original Super Mario Nintendo games, and the show’s music theme is rendered via a cheesy four-note synthesizer. These weren’t around in the 1960s, but you get the idea.

You watch a short video, then choose one of several directions you think the game should follow, and you’re switched over to the next appropriate You Tube video.

The dialog is cheeky; the send-up is just pure fun. If you’re a series fan, it’s well worth watching.

Speaking of television, the ground rules of who produces TV shows are changing almost daily. It used to be limited to the broadcast TV networks. Then cable channels got into the act. And now the next wave of program producers are coming via the Internet. 

The biggest player in the Internet production scenario is Netflix, which has at least five new series for viewing by its estimated 20 million customers. 

This past week, according to Deadline.com, Netflix announced the launch of Hemlock Grove, described in a press release as “a gripping tale of murder, mystery and monsters set in a ravaged Pennsylvania steel town.” Starring Famke Janssen and Bill Skarsgard, the series will be produced by Eli Roth, responsible for horror features including Hostel and Hostel, Part 2. It will air early next year.

Netflix is also reported to be preparing to shoot Orange Is The New Black, a 13-episode half-hour series based on a woman’s experience in a women’s prison, from the creator of the long-running Weeds series on Showtime.

The company will also be home to new episodes of Arrested Development, the much-loved quirky series cancelled by the Fox Network in 2006, and now being resurrected with the original cast with new episodes available next year.

And Netflix has available the eight-episode original series, Lillehammer, the fish-out-of-water story of a gangster who chooses Norway to live under a witness protection program. The series stars Little Stephen of Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band fame.

Last year, Netflix startled the TV business by announcing it would finance House of Cards, a politics-based 13-episode series starring Kevin Spacey and directed by A-list director David Fincher for $100 million, outbidding HBO and AMC for the rights. It’s also due out in 2013.

Not to be outdone, Hulu announced a second year of A Day In The Life, a documentary series by Morgan Spurlock that looks at a day in the life of both famous and just interesting people. Hulu is already airing the political half-hour comedy-drama called Battleground, about a fictional U.S. senatorial campaign in Wisconsin, with new episodes available every Monday.

Wait, there’s more. The little-known Crackle.com site, a Sony-owned Internet site featuring free films and programming from the Sony Pictures library, will make its own entry into the field, according to Deadline.com. This will be a series called “Unknown,” a thriller/horror anthology series built around unexplained phenomena. The initial run will be six half-hour shows. 

And finally, while Direct TV isn’t an Internet site per se, it has been responsible for prolonging the life of beloved but cancelled series such as “Friday Night Lights” and  “Damages.” This past week, Direct TV was rumored to be producing announced an original drama: Rogue, starring Thandie Newton, an undercover cop who chases a gangster after her son is killed. No details regarding number of episodes or release date were revealed.

So much TV. So little time.


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