Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Glut of New Shows -- NBC

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If you are as savvy on television history as I am or are even old enough to remember, you may know that this is not the first time that the National Broadcasting Company has found itself in a hole. In fact, they have been besieged before from complete failures of television series, big risky projects and other disastrous situations, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Shows like Supertrain, David Cassidy: Man Undercover (seriously), Pink Lady (and Jeff Altman) and Cinema Snob favorite Manimal (come to think of it, with the rest of the Fall 1983 crop) have all weighed down the network's prospects, even to the point of dooming NBC. On top of that, there was also the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics (think history will repeat itself?). It wouldn't be until 1984 when The Cosby Show would give the peacock network the hit it desperately needed.

It can be hard to tell if things were worse then when a major broadcaster failing was a big deal, or now when there is vastly more competition surging by giving life to ideas that would have fallen by the wayside in the olden days. But for my money, I will say that the stakes were much higher in the past. After all, with as much competition as there is today from the internet as well as from cable, the only way for a network to fail is if few cared about it to begin with. And even still, you less see a network going off the air and more one changing its format (ie, the Fox Soccer Channel becoming the comedy-orientated FXX).

So, what's NBC's beef nowadays? Basically, you have more new shows failing to take off, even compared with other broadcasters. In particular, this past season has seen every attempt at a new sitcom crash and burn, leaving only two (yes, two) to gain a renewal -- Parks and Recreation and Community. Some shows did not have much a chance to begin with, such as Whitney eeking out a lucky second season or Animal Practice launching its unlikely premise with a preview interuptting the Summer Olympics closing ceremony. And not helping matters was that The Office was always slated to end last season. But still, others of these new shows had so much promise. A comeback vehicle for Matthew Perry with an interesting role for him? The New Normal, from the co-creator of Glee and portraying two gay men diving right into fatherhood?

And among this new slate of comedies, I just do not see as much there. I mean, Michael J. Fox mining his personal struggle with Parkinson's for a sitcom vehicle is okay, I guess. However, all we have now are three family comedies attempting to evoke the afore-mentioned success of The Cosby Show (and one can argue, Family Ties as well). I think I like this sub-genre better on ABC.

Even more remarkably, NBC actually was doing very well last season, at least at first. The two elements that allow them to cling on to dear life are NFL coverage through Sunday Night Football, and the singing competition The Voice. The latter in particular contributed to early successes, for new drama Revolution and the afore-mentioned sitcoms as well. But once the fall cycle ended, you can really tell things have gone downhill, and both the Matthew Perry vehicle Go On and The New Normal cratered, ending their runs well in advance of the end of the season. Sure The Voice performed nicely in its Spring run, but even that couldn't lift things for the network.

The Blacklist (Mondays 10/9c; Starts 9/23) -- Let's start things off with NBC's most hotly anticipated fall drama, starting the week in the cushy post-The Voice slot on Monday nights. Tonally, this new show starring James Spader as a criminal joining forces with the government to nab a bunch of other criminals almost resembles something like Homeland, the much revered Showtime military drama. However, I can't help but get the feel of a procedural from this premise, and from the copious promotion it gets.
Ironside (Wednesdays 10/9c; Starts 10/2) -- A promo that ran during a recent Notre Dame game caught my father's attention, mostly because he can fondly recall the original version of this show. The original Ironside starred Raymond Burr as a detective still maintaining a tough persona and passion for his job in spite of losing the ability to walk. This new show sports Blair Underwood (most recently of the ambitious, but short-lived The Event) in the same role.
Welcome to the Family (Thursdays 8:30/7:30c; Starts 10/3) -- The first of three new family sitcoms launching on this network's iconic Thursday night lineup. This sports a meager premise, with two families forced to live with each other when the son in one impregnates the daughter in the other. (dotdotdot) And looking up that premise without really remembering it before, it occurs to me that this is the fourth time in the last five years I can recall a new sitcom utilized a pregnancy as its main hook. Before, we had Accidentally on Purpose, Better with You, and most recently The New Normal...and none of those shows made it past the first season. Good luck Welcome to the Family. You will need it...
Sean Saves the World (Thursdays 9/8c; Starts 10/3) -- Honestly, the most interesting thing about this new show are two promos running which take the title literally. It's there when I awkwardly realize that those may be the funniest things about this show, and that Sean Hayes may in fact be more interesting as a producer than he is as an actor. After all, he's produces the Friday night genre show Grimm with his partner, Todd Milliner. Another thing Hayes has brought up is the fact that he has a lot of faith in the traditional sitcom style, with a few cold sets and a laughing studio audience. Maybe he doesn't need to star on his own show to save it. Maybe he already has. After all, his and Milliner's Hazy Mills Productions junket have already produced Hot in Cleveland, a sitcom featuring Betty White for TV Land. That show took off fairly easily, and pretty much every successful sitcom on basic cable (let alone TV Land) can be traced back to it.
The Michael J. Fox Show (Thursdays 9:30/8:30c; One-Hour Premiere 9/26, 9/8c) -- C'mon, Marty! This new show sets itself up around Fox, propelled with a 22-episode order as early as Fall 2012 (!) by his success back in the 80s as Alex P. Keaton. On this new show, he plays a famous TV news reporter returning after taking time off to deal with Parkinson's disease, as I mentioned earlier a parallel to the actor's real life struggles. One element that throws me off is a promo for the whole night's lineup, with a clip of Fox shaking as he tries to serve scrambled eggs to his family. This almost goes against the trailer I saw back in May, which attempted a sentimental approach in selling the show (still not as bad as TV spots I've seen for Robin Williams' new CBS comedy).
Dracula (Fridays 10/9c; Starts 10/25) -- Wait, isn't this a death slot? On the other hand, NBC isn't alone in attempting to nurse the whole night, with its precious few people tuning in for TV in general, back to health. One thing that helps this new period piece starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as an eloquent version of the famous movie monster is how late it starts compared to the rest of the lineup. And leading into it is Grimm, which of course has been immensely successful in spite (or even because) of the night it airs on. Still a large margin of error, however.

As for the rest of the lineup, the most notable changes made were sophomore dramas getting new time slots perhaps as a test of durability. Chicago Fire, the Dick Wolf-produced firehouse procedural now follows The Biggest Loser and the results show for The Voice on Tuesday nights. But the first season was solidly successful in both the Fall boom period and the slump later in the season, and has the distinction of spotlighting a certain institution that before was really overlooked on television, the fire department. It shouldn't be a surprise that a spinoff is also planned for midseason, also in the easygoing procedural format. If you really want to talk about loftier stakes, look at survivalist drama Revolution. That show follows a tougher format prone more to diminishing audiences, less likely to regain any momentum it loses. And not helping matters is the new timeslot, 8/7c on Wednesday nights. It would probably be harder to kill off characters in an hour where children are still awake.

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