Thursday, May 18, 2006

Network upfronts

The annual announcement of fall schedules is a greatly anticipated event in my world, and probably the purest time of promise and unspoiled charm in TV, because at this point no one really knows how much most of these shows will completely suck, or how they'll get cancelled after two episodes, or how they'll turn into annoyingly pervasive cultural phenomena. Sometimes I wish they could all stay as potential shows that I'm curious about but will never have to watch.

Well, not really. But I do get Christmas morning-esque excitement each day reading about what the networks will have in store for me come September. The good thing about being a TV critic is that I will get to watch at least one episode of each of these shows, and there's inevitably at least one show that doesn't sound at all interesting to me from the description, but turns out to be really effective at whatever it does. The bad thing, of course, is that I have to watch at least one episode of each of these shows, and most of them will really, really suck.

Speaking of really, really sucking, I don't think there's a single show on Fox in the coming fall that I'm interested in watching, and that includes returning shows as well as new. I've already given up on Prison Break, which just got too redundant and ridiculous for me. I realize that they did finally break out of prison in the season finale, but I was already long past caring whether that happened, and of course now that the characters are on the outside, the emphasis is going to be on the conspiracy plotline, which always struck me as haphazard and ill-advised. But those overarching conspiracy plots, as well as 24-style gimmicks, are the hot things for new shows this season, and consequently have already lost whatever originality they once had. Fox promises that their new show Vanished "combines the investigative twists and turns of CSI, the nonstop pace and tension of Fox's 24 and the scope of The Da Vinci Code," thus naming three things I have no interest in whatsoever.

But if Fox and CBS (by virtue of renewing virtually everything they air) have little of interest to offer, at least NBC and ABC are desperate enough to pick up tons of new shows, and a couple of those have to turn out to be good, right? Probably my most anticipated new show of the season is NBC's Heroes (left), with Alias' Jesse Alexander as executive producer and a cast featuring Greg Grunberg and Adrian Pasdar, among others. It's another high-concept Lost rip-off, but it's a real-world take on superheroes, which is something I love in comic books, so I'm apt to forgive it any derivative tendencies.

I'm actually looking forward to more than half of the shows NBC picked up, including the pair of "behind the scenes at an SNL-like variety show" shows, Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Tina Fey's 30 Rock (right). Sorkin can be brilliant as long as he doesn't end up back in rehab, and Fey's Mean Girls was one of the smartest screenplays of the last few years. As long as these shows don't cannibalize each other's audiences, I think they could both thrive. I'm also giving cautious optimism to Kidnapped (another 24 copy, but it's got Karen Sisco's Jason Smilovic and Angel's David Greenwalt behind it) and midseason shows Andy Barker, P.I. (please redeem Andy Richter from the horror that was Quintuplets) and Raines (Jeff Goldblum as psychic detective? I am there).

Over on ABC, I'm still giving J.J. Abrams the benefit of the doubt, so I'll check out his new show Six Degrees (even though he's only onboard as an executive producer), which has a great cast, as does Brothers & Sisters (left), which also has good buzz and a killer timeslot (after Desperate Housewives). I love good relationship dramas if they're done well, and B&S looks to be one of the few new dramas without an annoying high concept.

I admit I'm also sort of looking forward to CBS's post-apocalypse drama Jericho (although CBS has a bad track record with genre shows) and Fox's midseason Rob Corddry comedy The Winner. Perhaps the saddest admission of all: The CW's new Kevin Williamson show Hidden Palms, set for midseason, pushes all my teen soap-loving buttons. It'd be nice to have something fun to fill that niche since I don't watch The O.C. anymore.

I'm happy to see that the perpetually endangered Veronica Mars has indeed found a place on the CW, and with Gilmore Girls as a lead-in. Even though this past season was sometimes bumpy, it's still the most exhilarating show on TV, and it'd be a shame to see it go so soon. I will be in mourning, though, for Invasion, a great show that built slowly (hence its trouble finding an audience) but brilliantly to its devastating climax this week. Given that ABC stuck with it for an entire season, even returning it to its coveted post-Lost timselot after a midseason break, I was sort of hoping they'd give it a chance for another season, but no luck. And rumors that the CW would pick it up turned out to be groundless. I haven't been this bummed by a premature cancellation since Freaks & Geeks.

Instead, ABC picked up yet another J.J. Abrams show, What About Brian, which I like but not nearly as much as Invasion. It hasn't yet been able to live up to the promise of the original pilot I saw last summer, although it got closer as its very brief season went on, and I'm glad it's getting a chance to continue to find its footing. It's among the few returning shows - along with VM, My Name is Earl and Lost - that I'm looking forward to watching next season. It's a good thing I'll have so many open slots for all those new shows.

No comments: