It’s upfronts time, when US networks present their 2014-2015 schedule to advertisers in a fierce bid for their dollars. With networks facing a changing world when it comes to how people consume, use, and access media, they’re more desperate than ever before to seek and secure advertising revenues and reaffirm their position in the market. At upfronts, the stars come out, the producers make nice, the previews sparkle, and each network sets out to woo in a glamourous presentation that will, hopefully, impress advertisers enough to make them dedicate funds.
This year, there’s talk of increasing the size and scope of advertising slots, clearly illustrating that networks are attempting to rethink their relationship with advertisers in a changing media landscape. And each network has taken on a slightly different approach to developing its upcoming season.
NBC, which rocketed from a shaky place in the ratings to number one, has suddenly made an about-face and gone conservative, canceling crowd favourite Community while adding limited new programming. State of Affairs, a Homeland wannabe starring Katherine Heigl, is perhaps the network’s most notable standout, but it’s a far cry from the innovative, daring television NBC was exploring over the 2013-2014 season. Evidently the time of shows like Hannibal is over and the peacock is back to playing it safe, which may put the network right back in last place again.
Fox is keeping much of its programming, but it is introducing some new comedies, one of which may draw Doctor Who fans; Selfie is a fresh take on My Fair Lady starring Karen Gillan as a woman more obsessed with her fans than her actual friends. Given the deep and abiding love for Gillan in the growing US-based Who fandom, it’s a sound move for the network, which could be banking on her star power to drive the show. Whether it actually proves to be engaging is another matter, but Gillan does have a delightful sense of humour, so it may just work.
Mulaney, another half-hour comedy, is a multicamera ensemble piece revolving around the life of a struggling standup comedian. While it doesn’t sound like it’s catered to my interests, it’s generating some buzz among people interested in seeing where it goes, and it could prove to be a sleeper hit—though calling it the ‘Seinfeld of a new generation’ may be a bit much.
ABC, which may have to start billing itself as the Shonda Rhimes Network, will be picking up another drama from the critically-acclaimed and beloved producer. Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal will be moving up a time slot to accommodate How to Get Away with Murder, turning Thursday nights into a solid Rhimes block. The programme revolves around a professor of law who turns into an investigator, and it hopes to ride on the coattails of Scandal’s intense and loyal fandom, which might just be persuaded to stick around for another hour on Thursdays.
The network is also introducing Black-ish, a comedy starring Anthony Anderson as a Black man attempting to raise his children with a sense of cultural and racial identity in a middle class environment filled with clueless ‘colorblind’ people who insist on dealing with race by pretending like it doesn’t exist. If done well, and it may well be, it could be a brilliant skewering of white progressive ideals in the United States, and a sharp commentary on being Black in America. It couldn’t come at a better time, with a nation struggling to confront its racial politics and getting ready for The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore set to replace the Colbert Report after Colbert makes his move to late night.
Meanwhile, on CBS, Madam Secretary explores the life of a beleaguered Secretary of State, and could be a fascinating political drama a la Homeland or Scandal, or a hot mess. CBS isn’t exactly known for riveting television, so I’m dubious, but the network is definitely aiming high, with an as-yet untitled Wall Street drama focusing on the networks of greed, scandal, and corporatism that run (and ruin) the United States. Lest you think CBS is stepping out of the box this season, though, the network is also picking up yet another police drama in the form of Battle Creek, which may distinguish itself slightly thanks to the fact that it’s being produced by Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad (apparently he’s breaking on the right side of the law now).
From all appearances at upfronts, the next television season looks eclectic and cluttered, with many networks leaving numerous options for ditching and reshuffling their schedules if they don’t like their ratings. This sense of impatience hasn’t served well in the past, with many refusing to let new programmes get a foothold before yanking them for poor ratings, and it appears that the networks haven’t learned yet. The takeaway is that you probably shouldn’t get too attached to anything, because if you blink, it may disappear.