This was the week of the broadcast network “upfront” presentations, which are the splashy ads for new programming that networks show to advertisers to entice them into ignoring their fears that everybody is fast-forwarding through all the commercials anyway.
Because the trailers for the new shows are ads, just like movie trailers are, it’s critically important not to draw conclusions about what will be good and bad based on those ads when you bump into them. For one thing, a lot of shows will be retooled to some degree before they actually air. For another, some people are just better at cutting trailers than others. And for yet another, the original state in which a show enters the world doesn’t necessarily represent what it will become (as was the case with, for instance, ABC’s delightful and recently canceled Happy Endings).
Keep in mind, too, that the premises of most shows sound terrible, simply because broadcast television is largely about execution, not premise. So the fact that they’re making yet another wacky family sitcom, for instance, doesn’t tell you whether it will be Malcolm In The Middle or Hank. (Remember Hank?)
The new shows are not necessarily the most important things going on in broadcast television. The most important things going on in broadcast television relate to the business model. ABC rolled out the first version of what will eventually be a mobile app that will allow you to watch ABC programming live on your phone or tablet. They’re all talking about social media, cross-platform stuff, and how to deal with cord-cutting. So the state of new programming is not the state of television, certainly. And remember: most will be canceled, as most is every season.
At the same time, you can get a general view of what the broadcast networks are trying to do and what kinds of shows they’ve got planned. There aren’t a lot of obvious audacious moves that were revealed this week from a programming standpoint, and the networks showed the same willingness as always to rely on sequels, spin-offs, remakes, and other previously existing properties wherever they could. Two of three new NBC dramas are updates, as is Fox’s only new fall drama, though more originals will appear at midseason.
So let’s look briefly at the new shows you’ll be getting from broadcast this fall and the many familiar faces you’ll be given a chance to see, if you choose.
Fox has another dark procedural to go after Bones on Mondays (in the slot where The Mob Doctor bombed in the fall and The Following did better this spring: Sleepy Hollow brings Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman to present day. (Feels a little Grimm-y from the trailer.)
They’re also trying to build on their two woman-led comedies (New Girl and The Mindy Project) on Tuesdays by adding two guy-led comedies. One is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a cop comedy with — I swear — Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher as a young cop who doesn’t play by the rules and his boss who wants him to buckle down and get serious. (Again: I swear.) It’s created by Michael Schur and Dan Goor, whose Parks And Recreation you might enjoy. The other is Dads, with Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green as the younger pair of dads and Martin Mull and Peter Riegert as the older pair of dads. That one comes from, among others, Seth MacFarlane, for whatever that means to you.
Fox’s new reality offering is Junior MasterChef, which will be on Friday nights and is apparently part of a continuing effort to make sure you get your Recommended Daily Allowance of Gordon Ramsay.
NBC continues to be hard at work trying to get something to stick besides football and Carson Daly, and they’ve got three new 10 p.m. dramas and three new half-hour comedies on offer. The dramas are The Blacklist, starring James Spader as a creepy criminal who turns himself and will only cooperate with a young, pretty female agent; Ironside, an update of the old Raymond Burr detective show starring Blair Underwood; and Dracula, with Jonathan Rhys-Myers as you-know-who.
The three comedies, which will join Parks And Recreation to make up the Thursday night block in the fall, feature a couple of old familiar faces (Sean Hayes in Sean Saves The World and Michael J. Fox in The Michael J. Fox Show) as well as Welcome To The Family, about a very young couple whose unexpected pregnancy forces their grouchy parents together.
ABC — actually the fourth-place network for last season, thanks to NBC’s Voice/NFL boost — is so happy with how Once Upon A Time is doing that they’re bringing its spin-off, Once Upon A Time In Wonderland, to Thursday nights before Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.
The search for good partners for The Middle and Modern Family on Wednesday nights continues with Back In The Game, featuring a single mom who takes her son to live with her mean old father (James Caan), and Super Fun Night, in which Rebel Wilson (with an American accent!) plays one of three socially awkward friends.
On the drama side, since they’ve already got a show called Revenge, they’re adding a show right after it on Sunday nights called Betrayal, about people having an affair (great for those who feel adulterers are underrepresented on television).
But it’s Tuesday night where ABC is making the biggest splash, bringing in an entirely new lineup. At 8:00 is Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. from Joss Whedon (which, fair warning, I will be calling Shield from now on, in keeping with an agreement reached with a bunch of other critics who don’t want to type that horrible name over and over). At 9:00, there will be a pair of new comedies — The Goldbergs, which looks like a sort of darker Wonder Years set in the 1980s, and Trophy Wife, in which Bradley Whitford is the husband, Malin Akerman is the new wife, and Marcia Gay Harden is one of the ex-wives. And at 10:00, Lucky 7 brings you the story of co-workers who win the lottery, but find that — dun! — nothing is ever as perfect as it sounds.
Over at CBS, where the attitude is rather more relaxed in keeping with the predicable humming along of the lineup of procedurals and broad comedies, they’re making changes, but the ones they’re making don’t seem very big on change. As for comedies, We Are Men is a show about four dudes giving each other advice about women (sounds like CBS!), Mom is a Chuck Lorre show about a single mother (sounds like CBS!), The Millers is yet another attempt to successfully build a show around Will Arnett (here played a divorced reporter) (sounds like CBS!), and The Crazy Ones stars Robin Williams as the head of an ad agency with a daughter played by Sarah Michelle Gellar (sounds slightly less like CBS, until you hear that it comes from David E. Kelley, who made Chicago Hope and Picket Fences).
The dramas are Hostages, starring Toni Collette and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and Intelligence, starring Josh Holloway and Marg Helgenberger in a story about a spy with a microchip in his head. (Seriously.)
We’ll get more deeply into the fall season as it gets closer, and we’ll see whether there are any regrets about pilots that didn’t make it (an update of Beverly Hills Copfor CBS, built around Axel Foley’s son and co-produced by Eddie Murphy and accomplished producer Shawn Ryan, was widely expected to be picked up and wasn’t, and there were similar high hopes for an NBC comedy from marvelously funny standup John Mulaney). But for the moment, look upon the fall season and know that … well, that very little of it will be alive a year from now.