Sunday, September 19, 2010

The New Fall Television Season - Part Two

On the night before the official start of the new TV season, I think I'll really start to delve into the prospects and potential by looking at NBC first. There are two reasons I chose them to start. First off - they're in last place among the biggest broadcast networks, and have been for several years. They haven't quite been able to maintain a strong, consistent enough thunder since Friends came to a close in 2004, and things only got worse last season. They tried out a big prime time experiment and called it The Jay Leno Show, and it blew up in their face.

Okay, to be fair it accomplished the steady financial stream they were aiming for. The real problem was how the affiliates responded to their local newscasts having a consistently weak ratings performer for a lead-in. In response, NBC pulled cancelled the show in January. Of course, it just resulted in that three-ring media circus over the network falling back on its two-year commitment to Leno in prime time, ending in Conan O'Brien leaving The Tonight Show, and the network. And I think we can all agree in how stupid that monkey business was.

But enough about that. The other reason I've decided to start off with NBC is because they've also launched new shows already as well. The likable dramedy Parenthood started its second season on Tuesday, following part one of the finale of summertime hit America's Got Talent. The next night after the conclusion came a new show, Jimmy Smits legal drama Outlaw. And The Apprentice, returning to its original format preceding the celebrity version (which regardless, returns mid-season), had its two-hour premiere this past Thursday.

I got to sample Outlaw when it debuted on Wednesday night. It was a preview airing with hopes of promoting a series which faces an arduous road ahead in the proverbial black hole time slot of Friday nights, 10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 Central. This was not unlike what I saw four years ago on ABC, with the charming and woefully underrated Anne Heche dramedy Men in Trees getting a similar spotlight. In that case however, the show at least got two whole seasons, a far shorter run than it deserved.

On the other hand, Outlaw doesn't seem to hold a lot of water. The premise has Smits starring as a Supreme Court Justice who quits in the midst of an intense case involving a convicted killer who he doesn't believe got a fair trial. The whole thing came off as pretty slow and dull, and didn't do a whole lot to pique my interest. I don't expect to finish the pilot, or tune in on later weeks before trying other shows.

Not that NBC's other new programs are all that interesting or compelling. What proved interesting in last season's ultimate cancellation decisions is what happened to Law and Order. The venerable crime and legal drama, expected to return for it's landmark and record-scoring Twentieth season ended up being cancelled just as the upfront presentations were about to get running. Apparently, talks broke down at the last minute between NBC and series creator Dick Wolf over financials. Wolf tried to keep the show going by taking it to TNT and even AMC, but that ultimately didn't work out.

Law and Order: SUV will still stick around though, and you can even look for Joan Cusack in the season opener on Wednesday night. NBC has also decided to compensate for this loss in its decision to pick up a spinoff, Law and Order: Los Angeles. To say the very least, it'll certainly be interesting to see how long-standing fans will adapt to the change in setting, bringing about stars like Skeet Ulrich and Terrance Howard with it. Well, at least we can hope that the new series will maintain the dignity we expect from the brand.

Easily the most hyped new show of the season is The Event. This is another effort to generate another major, continuous drama for network television, an event show if you will. NBC's been promoting everything in the pilot, from Blair Underwood as the President confronting an assassination attempt to Jason Ritter hijacking a major domestic flight, like mad over the Summer months, ballyhooing it on a variety of different media. Not a day went by without another outlet begging the question, "What is The Event?"

I will admit, when I saw the initial trailer for The Event back in May during the NBC upfront, I thought it looked really cool and was practically sold on it. But since then, I've been forced to consider some sound advice in an online article I read more than a year ago. This cartoonist in Portland, Oregon brought about the idea that it's possible to completely eradicate any potential buzz or anticipation for a new show through sheer over-promotion. If you follow the link, you can read for yourself, as he cites the 2008 Christian Slater series My Own Worst Enemy as an example.

I must say, he's absolutely right. While I certainly hope The Event can overcome this issue and find success regardless, I personally have tried from all the ballyhooing. I just can't see myself tuning in from the get-go.

Really, the returning shows on NBC I anticipate the most are its comedic offerings. Among them are Chuck, the charming spy action comedy about the nerdy Big Box retail worker who also doubles as a spy. I will admit that I only really caught up with the show for two seasons in a row in June, catching it on demand, and even then it was only the bottom half of the season. Mayhaps I'll keep up better this season, even with How I Met Your Mother demanding my time on Monday nights. After all, there's always Hulu, right?

The last I saw of Chuck Bartowski, he was ready to seek out his mother, delving further into the spy life for years he didn't realize was in his blood. As the third season rolled on, this revelation became all the clearer and it kept dominating Chuck's life more and more. It makes for nice drama, almost competing with the real-life drama of whether or not this show will live to see another season. But I will also admit, the key downside is that it pushes the comedic atmosphere the show started out with further and further away. Hopefully, they will still find a way to keep things light enough, thus maintaining much of the element I initially fell in love with when the show debuted.

And then you have the Thursday night sitcoms. As per usual, they're a blast and more! Sterling show biz satire 30 Rock and business mockumentary about goofy working stiffs The Office, the cornerstones of the critically-hailed Thursday night block, of course will be there.

You've also got new comedy Outsourced, which follows the potentially interesting setting of a call center in India for an American novelty company. On paper, that sounds like the next great sitcom. But if early buzz on the show is any indication, it'll end up the biggest NBC comedy blunder since Kath and Kim. However, I really must admit something. Kath and Kim was deplorable in both previews and execution. On the other hand, the previews for Outsourced don't look nearly as heinous. I might still check that out, although I can only hope that it does turn out fine.

And to cap things off, we've got Community kicking things off each week. It really says a lot that, in a season that also gave us the comedic blessing of Modern Family, NBC's Community still emerged as the absolute crowning new comedy of the year. What other show can take gimmick concepts like a paintball match done like an apocalyptic action flick and make it pure humorous nirvana?

I'm serious, it's a major blast to watch. The promise of zombies on Halloween and stop-motion on Christmas really has me hyped!

It's a real shame that CBS happens to be putting The Big Bang Theory, another pure awesome sitcom, up against Community. As a matter of fact it's more than a shame, it's just really unfair! And why must Bang's studio compound matters by not streaming their show online? Why must I either neglect one one show in favor of the other, or discount my contribution to the audience by watching Community online? Why? Why? WHY?!

Wait a minute...I had no problem with having to watch Chuck online. Should I really feel so differently for Community?

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