John Peek of the Tape Consultancy runs the rule over this year’s new shows…
Once again the middle of May comes around and acquisitions executives from around the world find themselves making the annual pilgrimage to Los Angeles, to sample the latest offerings for US network and cable TV. As any Screenings regular will recognise, this process begins with an initial flurry of optimism and expectation. The hope that during the next 10 days something truly compelling will be uncovered, or even a selection of new series capable of surviving the brutally competitive US market, as well as emerging as successes internationally.
In the end, last year proved to be disappointing, with few of the new series offerings delivering as hoped. However as a result, there are a lot of new dramas to be screened this year – with NBC ordering six dramas, and ABC eight, and even CBS four – which I’m sure most buyers will be very happy about. More interestingly, there is a particularly varied range of shows on offer this year, even if NBC and ABC seem to be shadowing each other with a few similarly themed offerings.
Take NBC’s The Playboy Club, scheduled Mondays at 10pm. This 1960’s period piece makes for an interesting network commission. Clearly influenced by the look and style of AMC’s Mad Men, it also suggests an adult tone that may well need to stretch the boundaries of network TV if it is to deliver on its promise. Meanwhile, ABC has Pan Am scheduled Sundays at 10pm, again set in the 1960’s and promising an escapist look at the alluring lives of the air crews in the days when air travel was glamorous and jet-set.
Then there’s NBC’s Grimm, and ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which both explore worlds where fairytale characters are real. Again remarkably similar in theme, although Grimm would seem to have more of a procedural take on its subject.
Talking of procedurals, there actually seem to be relatively few of them this year, but the ones that are around are high-profile. Fox has The Finder, the spin-off series from the hugely successful Bones, which will launch mid-season. On the basis of the cross-over episode that aired recently, it looks to a more comedic take on the detection process, featuring an unusual trio of characters, including a heavily accented Saffron Burrows. NBC meanwhile has Prime Suspect from ITV Studios. It’s 20 years since the show first appeared in the UK, but finally Lynda LaPlante’s acclaimed series gets the chance to prove its mettle in the US. One has to hope that with such a pedigree behind it, Prime Suspect has a real chance of delivering for NBC.
There are also action adventure series, like the long awaited Terra Nova on Fox, which with its emphasis on special effects, dinosaurs and a pioneer community looks to be targeting a relatively broad family type audience, the return of “glam” with the rebirth of Charlie’s Angels on ABC (the only reboot this time around), and two new dramas from J.J. Abrams: Person of Interest for CBS, and Alcatraz, a mid-season series for Fox that sounds typically high-concept, and will likely stand or fall on the audience’s ongoing interest in the central mystery. Given the past few seasons experience with this kind of “event”‘ series, J.J. Abrams will need to be at his best if he is take the audience with him.
The there is ABC’s mid-season The River, which promises scares along the way, and NBC’s Spielberg backed musical, Smash, so all in all a very varied collection of dramas awaits us in the screening rooms over the coming week.
However, it would be remiss of me to not mention comedy, as there are also some very interesting developments here, not least of which is the return of Tim Allen to network television after an absence of 12 years with Last Man Standing, which sounds like a perfect vehicle for him.
Star power does appear to be driving a number of the comedies this year, with NBC’s Up All Night marking the return of Christine Applegate to the small screen, in a modern examination of how to balance parenthood, marriage and a career, while Free Agents is a workplace comedy, based on a UK-originated series, starring Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn.
In fact, NBC will launch a new night for comedy on Wednesday’s while ABC has also opened up a Tuesday night block while continuing with its commitment to Wednesday comedy. Even Fox is persevering with live-action comedy despite the limited success last season, and has two new high-profile entries with The New Girls, starring Zooey Deschanel as a quirky new arrival in an apartment populated by three guys – an intriguing recipe all round – and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, about a group of moms who fear their daughters are turning out like the girls who made their lives miserable for them at High School.