Sunday, May 20, 2007

Network upfronts

The annual announcement of the fall schedules for the major broadcast networks is generally a time for complaints from critics and TV obsessives, of the "I can't believe they cancelled this awesome but low-rated show" and "All these new shows are going to suck" varieties. And I have those complaints, too, but I think there's actually quite a lot of positive stuff to focus on. Yes, it's sad that Veronica Mars has been cancelled, but after she gave it three seasons' worth of time to find an audience, it's hard to blame the CW's Dawn Ostroff for pulling the plug. And, yes, there are some atrocious-sounding new sitcoms (including the notorious one based on the Geico cavemen), Sex and the City rip-offs about high-powered women in miniskirts (Lipstick Jungle, Cashmere Mafia, both for midseason) and horrifying reality shows (the Lord of the Flies-esque Kid Nation). But there are at least as many new shows that sound promising at the moment (based of course only on plot descriptions, creative teams and brief clips), and at least two great shows with low ratings (30 Rock, Friday Night Lights) that are getting second chances to find the audiences they deserve.

What am I most looking forward to in the fall? There are quite a few high-concept fantasy/sci-fi shows, which is a little surprising given how poorly most of the serialized dramas from this past season fared. To somewhat arbitrarily pick one as most promising, I'll go with ABC's Pushing Daisies (left), from Dead Like Me creator and Heroes producer Bryan Fuller, with a pilot directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. It looks quirky and darkly humorous, with a sort of tragic center (the main character can't touch the love of his life or she'll die), along with a procedural crime-solving element. It's exactly the kind of thing I'd expect from Sonnenfeld, rather than the bland pilot for Notes From the Underbelly (inexplicably getting a second season) that he directed last year.

Also on the sci-fi/fantasy tip, NBC's Bionic Woman remake (right), from Battlestar Galactica's David Eick, looks pretty damn cool. Eick has already proved his ability to update a cheesy old show for the present day, and that preview clip is badass. It's probably less cerebral than Galactica, but an exciting, fast-paced action show with some good characters will be more than welcome. I'm also optimistic about two new shows from The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz: Sort of similar to Bionic Woman (and reminding me a lot of UPN's short-lived Jake 2.0) is Chuck, on NBC, about a computer nerd who accidentally gets exposed to top-secret government technology and becomes a secret agent. So, it's exactly like Jake 2.0, except it looks a lot goofier, which is probably best, given that Schwartz doesn't strike me as much of an action guy. Much more in his wheelhouse is the CW teen drama Gossip Girl, although it looks like it doesn't quite have the O.C. humor going for it. Still, as I've said many times, I love teen dramas, and I have a feeling Hidden Palms isn't going to make it past the summer.

This looks like a good year for nighttime soaps, too, with Gossip Girl plus ABC's Dirty Sexy Money (left), which looks like it has the sort of gleefully trashy tone that's been missing from these sorts of shows for a while (not counting Desperate Housewives, which tries way too hard). There's also CBS's Cane, a family saga starring Jimmy Smits that looks like the darker (that is, in tone, not skin color) version of Brothers and Sisters. It could be a little cheesy, but the sleaze factor looks high in the preview.

Because I am a sucker for vampires, immortals and the devil, I will give a chance to CBS's Moonlight, Fox's New Amsterdam and the CW's Reaper, even though they all look sort of lame. And then there's Viva Laughlin (right), the CBS drama/musical hybrid that's set in a casino in the glamorous town of Laughlin, Nevada (which those of us who live in Vegas know is a joke in itself). It could very well be the next Cop Rock, but it's clearly the most original thing on the schedule (even if it's a remake of a British show), and audacious failures can sometimes be as fun to watch as brilliant successes, at least until they're cancelled after four episodes.