The annual Up Fronts are a tough time for die-hard TV fans such as myself. This is the week we find out which of our beloved shows have survived for another season and which are headed to that big TV Network in the sky. It's also the week we get to hear about the new crop of green-lit shows that'll be popping up in the fall to take the place of what's just been killed off. It's sadness and excitement mixed with dread and apathy. And it makes me wish I were a network exec because I almost always think I could do it better than they do.
Four networks have unveiled their '09-'10 schedules so far - Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC - but the fate of nearly all the '08-'09 series have already been announced. In the constantly tweeted news cycle of the day, here's how my opinions of the "big 5" networks shake out:
Going into the previous season, they had me for three and a half hours a week - Dirty Sexy Money was soapy and delicious, Pushing Daisies was sweet and quirky, Private Practice was...not as bad as Grey's Anatomy had become, and Samantha, Who? was funny and smart and worth the trouble of trying to figure out where the hell they had scheduled it.
The bloom was off the Private Practice rose fairly quickly as it seems Shonda Rhimes lacks the necessary skill to control the asylum rather than letting the asylum control her. Her shows become bogged down in melodrama and whining and bitchiness. Dirty Sexy Money got off to a bumpy start and just as it found it's footing, the network gave it the official axe. Pushing Daisies was wonderful from start to finish but frankly, I was surprised that such an unusual and under-the-radar show was given a second season so the news that it was kaput was no big shock. That left me with just Samantha on my spring schedule. Naturally the folks at ABC saw fit to cancel the only good thing they still had going for them.
They gave the go-ahead to Grey's, Practice, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and the critically panned Castle. That's a whole lot of crap on the schedule. Their slate of new shows appear to me to be on par with these shows so I guess their goal is to appeal to the folks who are looking for mediocrity. Of their new fall shows, I look forward only to Cougartown and as far as spring replacement series go, Happy Town has names attached that pique my interest (Geoff Stults, Amy Acker).
Quality Returning Shows: 2 (Lost, Brothers & Sisters)
Bankable Reality: 3 (Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelor(ette), Extreme Makeover: Home Edition)
Crappy (Looking) Shows: 10
Shows I'll Bother Watching: 1 (Cougartown - may be bumped to 2 if Happy Town gets a spring slot)
Despite having very few shows on their schedule last year that I gave a crap about, NBC started this Up Front season out on a high note having already renewed my beloved Friday Night Lights for 2 more (short) years to air on the net after an exclusive run on DirecTV following the success of that format's trial run earlier this season.
Still, the only other show on NBC that I watch is Chuck and that was hanging by a thread. Fortunately the powers that be brought it back for a 13 episode 3rd season and confirmed today that it would NOT have to lose any of it's outstanding tertiary players to lower the budget. They also implied that it was possible they'd be moved to increase the episode order at some point.
The net continues to give critical darling 30 Rock (it's funny but I don't watch it) a home and it definitely gets points for that. They've also showed a lot of support for Heroes even when it was going through rocky times. More support than I was able to spare for the same show. So they get points from me for that. And while they finally cancelled ER this year, they replaced it with two new medical dramas. Jay Leno hangs up his Tonight Show hat but comes back every weeknight in the prime 10-11pm (that's 9-10pm Central) slot with the Jay Leno Show and as if that weren't irritating enough, they have a mid-season offering called 100 Questions that is essentially the Man-On-The-Street crap Leno's been doing for years asking random people basic questions and letting the world "laugh" at how dumb most people are.
It appears they're taking a cue from Fox and moving toward a 1/2 season focus with one show running it's entire season Sept. through Dec. with little or no off-weeks then being replaced by another show Jan. through May for it's full run. I applaud that effort as it cuts down on the number of re-run episodes during a season.
They're going to need to pray that strategy makes up for a schedule filled with real shit though because their freshman class is bad. Back in the late '80s there was a Steve Martin movie called Parenthood and after it's success, a television version was created which was an abysmal failure. Now, 20 years later, it makes total sense that they'd try that again. You know what else makes sense? SNL Weekend Update Thursday. There is nothing about that title that isn't completely ridiculous - the S in SNL stands for Saturday, the L for live - it airs on Thursdays and is recorded. Absolutely nothing about it has anything to do with the weekend.
To make up for the total lack of imagination in their new series offerings, they're bringing Law & Order back for a 20th season even though it hasn't been truly good in a full decade!
One step forward, 20 steps back.
Quality Returning Shows: 2.5 (Chuck, 30 Rock and Heroes gets a 1/2 point)
Bankable Reality: 1 (The Biggest Loser)
Crappy (Looking) Shows: 13 (almost everything)
Shows I'll Bother Watching: 1 (Chuck)
CBS seems to have a decent grasp on what's good and what's popular and is interested in keeping both on the air. They've given renewals to How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory which are their funniest comedies while not their highest rated. They're keeping stalwart NCIS around (a real no-brainer after it's much ballyhooed ratings surge this season), as well as their new hit The Mentalist (Simon Baker is dreamy as all get-out so I have to call that a no-brainer too). Numb3rs benefited from it's comparatively inexpensive production costs and the lowered ratings expectations of a Friday night time slot (it gets the best ratings on the night but Friday ratings are always well under those of any other week night and tend to put all Friday shows on the bubble this time of year).
The network has it's fair share of stinkers but just because I think they're bad, doesn't mean that the rest of America agrees - ratings powerhouse CSI: Miami remains on the schedule despite the worst acting on television and Ghost Whisperer remains a dreadful replacement for the gone-too-soon Joan of Arcadia. And they're chock-a-block with various other procedurals - Cold Case, CSI, CSI: NY, Criminal Minds. They also have a number of un-funny comedies - The New Adventures of Old Christine, Rules of Engagement, Gary Unmarried. And they picked up Medium after NBC canned it.
They're leaning heavy on the dramas for the new season with only one new comedy (Accidentally on Purpose) but two medical shows (Miami Trauma with Jeremy Northam - that's Sir Thomas Moore for you Tudors fans - and Three Rivers with Alex O'Laughlin who has totally gotten better looking with a haircut and scrubs), a new cop show (The Bridge), the NCIS spin-off atrociously titled NCIS: Los Angeles, and a show about a scorned woman who consoles herself by becoming a defense attorney (The Good Wife starring Julianna Margulies along with Chris Noth who I hope is more Mike Logan than Mr. Big, Matt Czuchry - Logan from Gilmore Girls who happens to be 32 today - and my long-time crush Josh Charles). The blurbs for at least three of these new shows sound promising.
As I said, it balances out the critical faves with the ratings successes and makes nearly all of America happy in the process.
Quality Returning Shows: 5 (HIMYM, NCIS, The Mentalist, Numb3rs, Big Bang)
Bankable Reality: 2 (Amazing Race, Survivor)
Crappy Shows: 11
Shows I'll Bother Watching: at least 8 (HIMYM, NCIS, The Mentalist, Numb3rs, Big Bang, Miami Trauma, Three Rivers, The Good Wife)
Fox has the only two reality shows I watch - American Idol (televised crack - I don't want to watch but I'm hooked and I can't make myself quit) and So You Think You Can Dance (the best reality competition in the history of television) - as well as three outstanding dramas covering three genres.
House is the only medical drama I watch these days. A bit of the lustre has worn off over the years but it's still a quality show with a (mostly) fantastic cast. Bones seems to get better with every passing season and is my personal favorite forensic procedural. Fringe is an outstanding sci-fi show and benefits greatly from having one of the creepiest casts on TV (Broyles and Molly Dodd are both über unsettling and they're just the tip of a very creepy iceberg), as well as My Future Husband Joshua Jackson and the amazing John Noble.
They also have some stinkers and a few old relics that should have been put out to pasture long ago (Bart Simpson has been in elementary school for coming up on 20 years now, when is enough enough?) and they rely a touch too heavily on their reality (though, probably because it's given them a lot of success so it's hard to fault them for that).
Quality Returning Shows: 5 (House, Fringe, Bones, AI, SYTYCD)
Bankable Reality: 2 (AI, SYTYCD)
Crappy Shows: 5
Shows I'll Bother Watching: 5 (House, Fringe, Bones, AI, SYTYCD)
Poor little netlet. It has spent all of it's lives (as WB, UPN and CW) trying so hard to be successful in a couple of niche markets (urban America and teenage girls) and it has found only minimal success in one of those (the teenage girls). It's got one African American-centric comedy holding on to the bubble for dear life (The Game) and the ink is practically dry on the obit there so the urban demo has officially been given up in favor of focusing all of their efforts on courting the teenyboppers.
Some of what they have to offer is good - Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill are the last bit of awesome soapy goodness to be found on the airwaves and Supernatural is just what this post-Buffy/Angel world needs to keep us in demons and ghosts. Some is terrible - 90210 is a farce of bad acting, bad writing and bad clothes.
Smallville is past it's prime (and I am comfortable saying that, though I've never even watched it, because I just read they killed off Jimmy Olsen - wtf?), Reaper had the makings but never got it together to be as good a show as it should have been (RIP Lucifer!). I'm very sad to see Privileged go because that was a truly charming show.
They've given the green light to a Melrose Place reboot, a models-living-together drama staring Mischa Barton called Beautiful Life, and a show about vampires (a likely decent companion to Supernatural if it doesn't totally suck...no pun intended). There is the slimmest of possibilities that the Gossip Girl spin-off focusing on Lily's adolescent years in LA will be picked up as a mid-season replacement show but the writing is on the wall for that one already.
"Quality" Returning Shows: 3 (Gossip Girl, Supernatural, One Tree Hill - quotes added to make OTH qualify in this category)
Bankable Reality: 1 (America's Next Top Model)
Crappy (Looking) Shows: 5
Shows I'll Bother Watching: 4 (Gossip Girl, Supernatural, OTH, Vamire Show)