Ode to the days of hooded sweatshirts
It’s not fall, that’s easy enough to tell by a quick look at the calendar. But with the mild temps we’ve been having, you could have fooled me. It’s hoodie weather at night around here, which means it’s ye olde tyme for back-to-school, American football and a ton of new television shows, half of which won’t make it out of 2006.
What’s surprising this year is the sheer number of new programs that demand quite a bit of audience loyalty, from episode to episode, in order to understand the over-arching plot(s) of the series. Shows like Law & Order, CSI and (to a certain extent) ER consist largely of self-contained episodes -- meaning if you miss a few it’s still relatively easy to pick it back up. Yet as network TV loses ground to cable in the ratings game, they’ve gone to both cheaper programming (in the guise of reality TV) and shows that demand a higher level of audience allegiance. Sometimes it works (see Lost and 24), other times the shows can’t find a big enough audience, and they goes caput (see Invasion or Firefly), leaving fans more than a bit disgruntled, having invested so much in a story and its characters only to have it disappear forever (unless you’re lucky enough to have a creator like Joss Whedon, that is).
The networks are taking a risk by offering so many of these serialized shows, because if they don’t pan out, they could have a pretty pissed off audience, who are already getting more and more of their entertainment content on the web. I’m sort of a chronologically disabled uber-geek in the fact that I still really like TV, and really don’t want it to go anywhere. Maybe that’s a topic for another post, because it’s time to get to the new shows I’m looking forward to this fall. Excitement!
1) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip -- Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme return, bringing their long, steady-cam takes and snappy, endlessly entertaining dialogue back to NBC. After having explored the sporting world and the DC Beltway, they’ve set their guns on Hollywood this time around. Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley and just about everyone else in the whole wide world star as the players and producers of an SNL-like sketch comedy show. Look for Sorkin to skewer his own back-stage shenanigans while writing and producing both Sports Nite and The West Wing, i.e., someone’s gonna be ridin’ the white pony.
2) The Nine -- The only new show that can boast the best time slot in all of TV -- that 10 o’clock hour after Lost -- The Nine follows the trials and tribulations of nine individuals who are held hostage during a 52-hour bank robbery. Each episode will start out with a flashback to the robbery, setting up how the lives of the hostages have changed since the incident, allowing all sorts of people to laugh, cry and have sex that they wouldn' t have had otherwise.
3) Kidnapped -- Surprisingly, another cop-ish type drama falls into my list of TV likes. In what looks like an engrossing premise, each season will follow one kidnapping case as FBI, police, and private investigators interact in their quest to solve the case. Who knows whether it will hold my attention or not, but what it’s really got going for it at this point is the involvement of Delroy Lindo as a part of the cast. So if nothing else, it’s good to see Dr. Ed 'Braz' Brazzleton (from The Core, silly!) on the small screen.
- Vanished -- Whereas Kidnapped involves an actual kidnapping, Fox’s version is a bit more ambiguous. The show’s creators haven’t commented on how they’ll deal with a season two (should they get there), because they’re adamant that the entire series will revolve on the disappearance of a Senator’s wife in the first episode. Unless it’s done right, this one might be long gone by New Year’s.
- Heroes -- Heroes would have made my Top 3, but for the fact that NBC has yet to prove they have an air-worthy pilot episode for the series. Since sneak-peeking some scenes last May, the pilot has been re-edited in mysterious, as-yet-to-be-revealed ways in order to satisfy certain network execs. Usually pilot problems aren’t a good sign, but since it’s a show about normal people who find themselves with super-powers (starring the lovable Greg Grunberg to boot), I’ll be around for at least a few weeks to give it a shot.
- 30 Rock -- Tina Fey’s half-hour, single-cam comedy about a fictional SNL-type show (yes, that’s two, count ‘em two, both on NBC!), starring Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Rachel Dratch and Miss Fey herself. Maybe this has the potential to fill the whole in my heart left by the cancellation of Arrested Development. Maybe not. But God knows The Office and Earl can’t, so I’ve got to look somewhere….
- Jericho -- All I know about this show is that it follows a small, Midwestern town in the wake of a nuclear attack on American soil. And it’s on CBS. I give it a 10% chance to get to the November sweeps. Let’s see if the writing staff can execute on what’s at the very least an intruiging premise.
- Six Degrees -- The latest drama from golden boy J.J. Abrams, this one looks to be more Felicity than Alias, as it follows the lives of six interconnected, young strangers in the big, bad city. Six Degrees basically sounds like The Nine but without the cool, bank-heist angle, and the previews ABC has shows so far have been ultra-schmaltzy, with some third-string, U2 rip-off band providing the soundtrack. I’ll give J.J. a chance, but with nary a secret agent or mystery island in sight, I’m not too keen on this one’s chances.
Uggh. Just thinking about how many of these new shows could suck is kind of a bummer. But if there’s just one Lost or 24 among the bunch, it could be worth the pain of a glut of crappy pilots. As for my returning faves, I’ve written way too much already, so we’ll leave that for another day.
“A little television is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely awesome.” -- Oscar Wilde.