In May, the US networks traveled to New York City for the upfronts, a glitzy event where they attempt to convince advertisers, and the public, that they’re still relevant. For advertisers, it’s a chance to jockey for space in the commercial breaks on the hottest shows of the fall schedule. For the rest of us, it’s a chance to see what we have in store on the 2011-2012 network television schedule, since we don’t have a say in the development process.
It’s certainly an eclectic lineup this year. The networks have apparently taken note of the less than delighted response to their offerings last season, so they’ve decided to mix things up in the fall. When you look below the surface, it’s a bit unclear how innovative the offerings are, though. Many of these shows appear to be the same old, same old, dressed up in a glossy new veneer. Perhaps eventually the networks will learn that you cannot keep redressing the same turkey in the hopes that people won’t notice.
We have not one but two fairytale retellings, a reminder that adaptations of fairy tales are hot in the publishing industry right now and apparently television felt like it needed to catch up. NBC’s Grimm is your bog-standard procedural… except that Detective Nick Burkhardt isn’t just a detective, he’s
The Slayer a ‘Grimm.’ Fairy tales are also coming to life over on ABC with Once Upon A Time. One fantasy drama might be interesting, but two just looks gimmicky. (Speaking of The Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar will be returning to the small screen in Ringer on the CW. Blink and you might miss it.)
Given the current economic, political, and social climate, television may be on to something with the fairytales. There’s a long history of escapism in the face of rough times, of subverting the true face of the enemy behind that of a werewolf, vampire, or kraken. After all, if you fight the man and win every night on primetime, maybe you’ll forget to open the shades and look out the window.
If not fantasy, then nostalgia for an era long past when the stockings were silk and the sexism was naked. ABC has decided to horn in on some of the Mad Men action with Pan Am, a drama about cabin crews on one of the most famous airlines of all time. Hopefully ABC got the memo that it’s not enough to situate a show in a retro setting with nice costumes; you also have to have some actual content. What makes Mad Men great isn’t the dresses. NBC has also jumped on board the fond memory train with The Playboy Club, which is about pretty much exactly what you think it’s about, with a smattering of sexual revolution to give the screen a reason to fade to black now and then. I’m kind of astounded none of the networks have dared to capitalise on the success of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs with a stab at a 1930s period drama, but I’m thankful they didn’t. Bad enough to see them muddle through 1960s nostalgia.
Fox is dabbling into science fiction on Terra Nova, and hopefully giving it a little more love than it does Fringe. I have to give Fox some credit for consistently trying to keep science fiction in the lineup, but it’s tainted with some bitterness about the fact that the network usually doesn’t work to keep it there. For any other science fiction programmes, you’ll have to turn to SyFy, which is apparently going to have another go at the Battlestar Galactica franchise with Battlestar: Blood and Chrome, even after the failure of Caprica.
In the comedy department we have I Hate My Teenager Daughter, which looks like it’s going to be absolutely vile, balanced by How To Be A Gentleman (presumably not by hating on your teenage daughter). Hopefully no viewers will end up in Suburbagatory, which could end up being a comedy of manners about the middle classes, but probably won’t be. Speaking of class war, 2 Broke Girls promises to be a laugh riot, if you’re into shows about plucky young women making it big with a little help from their rich pals. ABC’s doing its part in the war of the sexes with Man Up; I know I won’t be missing a single episode!
In remakeland, ABC plans to bring back Charlie’s Angels and NBC is adapting British series Prime Suspect. Meanwhile, CBS is keeping to its time-honoured primetime soap tradition with Unforgettable and A Gifted Man. On A Gifted Man, a surgeon learns the error of his ways when his dead wife haunts him and teaches him the true meaning of charity (goodness, I didn’t know A Christmas Carol was appropriate for all seasons now), while Unforgettable uses eidetic memory as a plot device. As though that one hasn’t already been pounded into the ground.
They say that everything old is new again, and apparently the networks are going to test that theory. Few producers have come up with truly innovative television in the United States in the last few years, and this year is no exception. Is the era of brave, daring television gone, erased in a sea of fears about what is marketable and a haze of Glee envy?
Given this lineup, what will I be watching this fall?