Fans of innovation and originality in television probably don't expect either from the major networks, and a scan of next fall's slate of debuts won't convince them otherwise. There are supernatural, J.J. Abrams-esque sci-fi mysteries along the lines of Lost (Alcatraz, Person of Interest, Awake, Grimm). There are Mad Men-style period piece dramas depicting the shifting social mores of past decades (Pan Am, The Playboy Club). There are remakes from across the pond (Free Agents, Prime Suspect). There are shows about the existential crises of modern-day men (How to Be a Gentleman, Last Man Standing, Man Up). There are cartoons (Napoleon Dynamite, Allen Gregory).
The Big 4 might not be on par with more adventurous and forward-thinking cable networks, but it's safe to say the quality of network dramas is getting better. I mean, with that many shows, they can't all be bad, right? Here are the ones with promise...
A hot lady cop and that obese fellow from Lost team up to investigate some weird happenings at Alcatraz. It has to do with time travel or something. Critics were really pleased with the pilot, giving it the title of "Most Exciting New Series" along with 7 other shows at some awards thing they just made up. It sounds pretty great, J.J. Abrams is fun when he's got an end in mind. Though I still think about this every time I hear the title.
Excitement level (out of 10): 8
The trailer had probably two decent jokes over two minutes, and featured a narrator actually saying, "This season, attitude has a new name!" Also, Jonah Hill voices the main character, and I don't think that's a good thing. I'm not quite sure why I included this on the "Good" list. I guess it was an upgrade over the other shows Fox has rolled out in this timeslot.
Excitement level: 3
A cop drama based on the Brothers Grimm's already disturbing fairy tales? Yeah, you know, I can dig it. Something about the execution looks a little off, though that could be a pilot thing.
Excitement level: 6
HBO's next drama is ostensibly slated for Fall 2011, but who knows? David Milch doesn't need to prove his abilities as a showrunner to anyone, but it's tough to tell from the trailer if Luck will be more like Deadwood or John from Cincinnati. The television landscape is best when Milch's gorgeous prose is being played out on screen, even when it involves a surfer family and an autistic Christ figure. It's overused, I know, but even above other HBO minds like David Simon and David Chase, Milch is the showrunner I most easily link to the word "genius". Happily, the world of horse-racing and gambling probably has enough at stake to keep the story compelling. I'm somewhere between ecstatic and cautiously optimistic when it comes to this show.
Excitement level: 10
J.J. Abrams is the producer. Jonathan Nolan is the writer. Jim Caviezel stars. That's an excellent lineup. The premise sounds like a Minority Report knock-off, but Abrams and Nolan are too good for that. There's also this, from a Washington Post story:
“Person of Interest” is CBS’s highest testing drama pilot in 15 years, CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl said at the breakfast news conference.
CBS moved CSI, which has thrived in that Thursday spot for 10 years, to Wednesday to make room. HOWEVER, Person of Interest did not make the Critics' Choice "Most Exciting New Series" list, which would concern me if that award had been around more than this year. This is either going to be one of the best shows in network history, or one of the biggest disasters. Considering who's involved, I'll bet on the former.
Excitement level: 9.5 (it's still a broadcast network, after all)
Maria Bello stars, Peter Berg is attached, and it's based on an acclaimed British miniseries from the '90s. Still, nothing about the trailer particularly stands out, and it hasn't been a good year for remakes of cross-Atlantic crime dramas centering on female detectives.
(Also, I am going to have a devil of a time differentiating Person of Interest from Prime Suspect.)
Excitement level: 5
Ooh, a monsters in uncharted wilderness thing! Creepy! Steven Spielberg and the Paranormal Activity guys are involved, so, you know, that's got some potential.
I'm guessing the monsters are giant bats.
Excitement level: 6
Who doesn't love dinosaurs? Who doesn't love futuristic dystopian worlds? Not this guy, I'll tell you that much!
I'm not sold, though. Like Grimm, Terra Nova smacks of a spectacularly huge premise mired by the limits of network television. It's worth a go, but the trailer and names attached don't inspire Triceratops-sized trust the story can be pulled off.
(By the way, did you know Triceratops may not have existed, and may have just been a juvenile version of the Torosaurus? Talk about a game changer. I really wish science would stop toying with my emotions like that.)
Excitement level: 7
Outside Lorne Michaels name being attached, It's hard to see what could go wrong here. Producer/writer Emily Spivey's credits include long stints at Saturday Night Live and she produced some of Parks and Recreation's best episodes last season. The show stars Will Arnett and Christina Applegate, two extremely talented comedic actors who haven't found the right roles the last few years. Outside voiceovers in car commercials, Arnett has been repeatedly typecast into the "clueless smarmster" role, but by the looks of the trailer, he'll do well with this more likable character. The premise is simple and promising. Considering everyone involved, this seems like a natural fit to with The Office/Community/Parks and Rec Thursday night lineup.
Except Up All Night isn't scheduled for Thursdays. Whitney is, which I'll discuss next week.
With Up All Night, it seems like NBC is attempting to piggyback the success of Modern Family, never mind that the shows don't particularly seem all that similar beyond the parent dynamic, and aren't even on the same network. The curious part is how new media has informed this decision. With live streaming through sites like Hulu, channels don't matter. We watch Modern Family on Thursdays, then wait until Friday for NBC's Thursday night lineup. In the old ratings dynamic, Up All Night would've been a safer bet for Thursday night, but in the new one, NBC seems to be trusting the core Thursday night viewers to follow Up All Night to Wednesday (or watch them altogether on Friday, or Saturday, or whenever). Television ratings are still weighted toward the old paradigm, but NBC's Thursday night comedy viewer demographic are probably more likely to be early adopters than, say, Dancing With the Stars watchers. The point is, higher level machinations are in play as the Big 4 feel out exactly how streaming shows will change the landscape.
Excitement level: 9
Next week: the bad.