Friday, May 16, 2008

This is Pacey Whitter's serious face: The Fox upfront

After a week of complete inertia from ABC, complete desperation from The CW, the same-old, same-old from CBS and Jimmy Fallon from NBC, Fox managed to make everyone's week by unveiling a schedule that was full of TV geek love and some solid scheduling moves that make the most of the network's pieces. With the much-loved Kevin Reilly at the helm, Fox is making a serious stab at becoming the quality TV fan's go-to place. AND the two most anticipated shows are going to have only five minutes of commercials? AND Ron Moore is doing a backdoor pilot with Peter Berg sometime at midseason? Heavens to Betsy, Fox. You've saved a boring-ass week of upfronts.

(And, while we're at it, check out clips from most of the new series here.)

Reilly's new quality mission, something he started up at NBC, where he put Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock, among others, on the schedule, is not totally the new Fox m.o.; they still have Til Death and The Moment of Truth, after all. But the rest of the stuff is pretty good!

Now, I'm sort of thinking that Fringe is going to be a big disappointment, if only because it's J.J. Abrams redoing The X-Files with a love triangle or something, and everyone's going to be expecting Lost or, at the least, bees who have smallpox (what was that all about again?). The clips from the pilot, though, are pretty intriguing, if I do say so, including a nicely creepy scene on board a doomed airliner (stop me if you've heard this one before). One caveat, though: Have you noticed how on Abrams' shows, the pseudoscience always SOUNDS like pseudoscience? Denethor is babbling here about linking brains together and somesuch, and I'm sure that one of the pilot's writers read all about it in Fortean Times or something, but it just SOUNDS like complete bullshit. Similarly, the pseudoscience on Alias and Lost has always sounded just as ridiculous. That's one thing The X-Files had going for it: The pseudoscience always sounded vaguely legit, possibly because David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson could always sell it. "By God, Scully," Duchovny would say, "isn't it POSSIBLE that one man can travel the whole world in one night by using some sort of quantum flappity-bloop?" and Anderson would furrow her brow, and you would BELIEVE.

Anyway, it doesn't matter what any of us think of Fringe, because Fox is using absolutely every weapon at its disposal to make the thing a hit. I suspect we'll all be sick of it soon.

Then there's Dollhouse, another smartly scheduled show (finally, Joss Whedon and Fox need not spell instant doom aside from the fact that the hard-to-summarize premise and reportedly elegaic tone will probably keep the thing from being all that popular to begin with!), though this one has the hopes of the entire world seemingly resting on its shoulders (what with Whedon's return to television, an aces cast that includes the sadly underutilized Olivia Williams and some awesome stunts). I know all you want to see is a trailer, so here's one, which, hilariously, appears to have been made in Microsoft MovieMaker.



As if all of that weren't enough, Fox is ALSO tossing out the aforementioned Moore pilot (though I'll be surprised if it ever goes to series -- it sounds WAY too high concept) AND the return of Arrested Development's Mitchell Hurwitz, this time with an odd blend of live-action and animation that, sadly, does not involve Dick Van Dyke dancing with penguins. The tiny clip from the new Hurwitz show seems a little slow and over-obvious, but Hurwitz's work often needs room to grow. Or maybe the cancellation of Arrested finally broke him.

And then there's some sitcom about a hotel (though it's from talented writer Abraham Higginbotham, it also stars Jerry O'Connell, so there are mixed signals all over the place) and a Family Guy spinoff (also starring a family of bears). You win some, you lose some, eh, Reilly?

What I'm most impressed with here is the smart scheduling of the Sunday-through-Wednesday nights. I don't think Til Death is half the player that Back to You could have become, but every night takes a small building block and pairs it with another show that makes sense. The network may be leaning on House and Bones filling slots willy-nilly too much, but the deployment of them here makes sense. Still, I would prefer to see the network develop something other than crappy reality for Thursday and Friday, but I suspect they'll make a tidy profit off of both nights. The only question I have here is whether ditching the 5th Grader/Lyrics pairing on Thursdays will prove to be a good move, as I'm not sure Moment of Truth is going to be able to stand up to the tough competition at 8. We shall see, I suppose.

Follow through after the jump for the complete schedule and stick around tomorrow for thoughts on what was actually ON TV this week.


As always, Fox has released a fall and spring schedule to account for how much American Idol messes with their lineup every year.

FOX PRIMETIME SCHEDULE: FALL 2008

(All Times ET/PT)

MONDAY
8:00-9:00 PM TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES
9:00-10:00 PM PRISON BREAK


TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM HOUSE
9:00-10:00 PM FRINGE


WEDNESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM BONES
9:00-9:30 PM ‘TIL DEATH
9:30-10:00 PM DO NOT DISTURB (wt)


THURSDAY
8:00-9:00 PM THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
9:00-10:00 PM KITCHEN NIGHTMARES


FRIDAY
8:00-9:00 PM ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A 5th GRADER?
9:00-10:00 PM DON’T FORGET THE LYRICS!


SATURDAY
8:00-8:30 PM COPS
8:30-9:00 PM COPS
9:00-10:00 PM AMERICA’S MOST WANTED: AMERICA FIGHTS BACK
11:00 PM-Midnight MADtv
Midnight-12:30 AM TALKSHOW WITH SPIKE FERESTEN


SUNDAY
7:00-8:00 PM THE OT (NFL post-game)
8:00-8:30 PM THE SIMPSONS
8:30-9:00 PM KING OF THE HILL
9:00-9:30 PM FAMILY GUY
9:30-10:00 PM AMERICAN DAD


FOX PRIMETIME SCHEDULE: BEGINNING JANUARY 2009

(All Times ET/PT)

MONDAY
8:00-9:00 PM DOLLHOUSE
9:00-10:00 PM 24


TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM AMERICAN IDOL
9:00-10:00 PM FRINGE


WEDNESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM HOUSE
9:00-9:30 PM AMERICAN IDOL Results Show
9:30-10:00 PM TBA Comedy


THURSDAY
8:00-9:00 PM HELL’S KITCHEN
9:00-10:00 PM SECRET MILLIONAIRE


FRIDAY
8:00-9:00 PM BONES
9:00-9:30 PM ‘TIL DEATH
9:30-10:00 PM DO NOT DISTURB (wt)


SATURDAY
8:00-8:30 PM COPS
8:30-9:00 PM COPS
9:00-10:00 PM AMERICA’S MOST WANTED: AMERICA FIGHTS BACK
11:00 PM-Midnight MADtv
Midnight-12:30 AM TALKSHOW WITH SPIKE FERESTEN


SUNDAY
7:00-7:30 PM COMEDY ENCORES
7:30-8:00 PM COMEDY ENCORES
8:00-8:30 PM THE SIMPSONS
8:30-9:00 PM KING OF THE HILL (January) / SIT DOWN, SHUT UP (wt) (spring)
9:00-9:30 PM FAMILY GUY
9:30-10:00 PM AMERICAN DAD (January) / THE CLEVELAND SHOW (wt) (spring)

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Moonlight fans, I don't deserve to die simply for the news I bear: The CBS upfront

Look. I know you all like vampires. And I know that sexy vampires are even better. And sexy, crime-solving vampires? Like catnip to all of you.

But I'm sad to say that Moonlight? Canceled.

And, what's more, I didn't think it was all that great. It's fine if you thought so, but I can't believe how loud you are about it. I mean, I realize I foist my love of How I Met Your Mother on all of you (loudly), but at least my show got renewed because it had the good sense to whore itself out for ratings by hiring Britney Spears!

Anyway, the CBS fall schedule is the first of this upfront season to look like what might have actually been a CBS schedule in a regular year. It's full of sitcoms and crime dramas and a weird, female-skewing dramedy that will almost certainly be canceled, even though David will love it solely because it stars Elizabeth Reaser.

I'm most impressed by CBS trying to open up another hour of the week with sitcoms, even if I think it would have been smarter to put Rules of Engagement and New Christine on in that slot, if only to decrease some of the burden from Christine. I'm not a big Engagement fan, but if you're going to open up a new hour of comedy, go out there with guns blazing and your best foot forward (I would have even been OK with the Big Bang Theory/HIMYM hour being transplanted, and I think that probably would have worked better).

All in all, though, I'm surprised more networks haven't gone after comedy. ABC has a bunch in development, so we'll probably be surprised at midseason when they've canceled Grey's and put on something starring Cedric the Entertainer or something, but the other networks are canceling solid little performers with potential like Back to You or sending Scrubs off on its merry way when comedy is one of the few genres to have survived the strike mostly intact (and a few shows, like HIMYM, have seen their ratings IMPROVE after the strike). We're nearing the point when a big sitcom hit is going to break out any day now, but someone needs to find that Cosby Show before it can happen. And I realize that everyone is all blah, blah, blah the sitcom is dead, but I maintain the sitcom's only dead because everyone in Hollywood has seemingly forgotten to write them (and I'm speaking, of course, of traditional multi-cameras, not single cameras, which are in kind of a golden age). I like Big Bang Theory and New Christine, but both are just solid B-team sitcoms. They're the kinds of things that would have been stuck between Friends and Seinfeld (well, actually, they're better than most of those shows), but they're not Friends or Seinfeld.

The sitcom has such a rich history that, as much as I like deep, rich, serialized drama, I'm sad that we haven't had a top ten hit sitcom since Everybody Loves Raymond. I'm glad CBS is taking a chance on some new comedies, and I hope it pays off for them, even if both of their new sitcoms don't. . .look that great.

The new CBS dramas are all variations on kooky people solving crimes, except for that romantic dramedy, which makes the ABSOLUTELY PERFECT bridge between The Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs. Still, it's created by Diane Ruggiero, and she worked on Veronica Mars, so I must pay some sort of homage. At least CBS isn't going to do things like put Viva Laughlin! on the air. If they're going to exist, they might as well be as boring as they used to always be.

Except for that weird interactive horror series that's coming on at midseason. What's THAT all about?

Full schedule beneath the jump.

Tomorrow: Fox brings Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams and Ron Moore all kicking and screaming over to its network. Fans rejoice! Until May 2009 when all three series are canceled!


Monday
8:00 PM: The Big Bang Theory
8:30 PM: How I Met Your Mother
9:00 PM: Two and a Half Men
9:30 PM: WORST WEEK (new)
10:00 PM: CSI: Miami

Tuesday
8:00 PM: NCIS
9:00 PM: THE MENTALIST (new)
10:00 PM: Without a Trace

Wednesday
8:00 PM: The New Adventures of Old Christine
8:30 PM: PROJECT GARY (new)
9:00 PM: Criminal Minds
10:00 PM: CSI: NY

Thursday
8:00 PM: Survivor
9:00 PM: CSI
10:00 PM: 11TH HOUR (new)

Friday
8:00 PM: Ghost Whisperer
9:00 PM: THE EX-LIST (new)
10:00 PM: Numb3rs

Saturday
8:00 PM: Crimetime Saturday
9:00 PM: Crimetime Saturday
10:00 PM: 48 Hours: Mystery

Sunday
7:00 PM: 60 Minutes
8:00 PM: The Amazing Race
9:00 PM: Cold Case
10:00 PM: The Unit

HARPER'S ISLAND (new) and Rules of Engagement will go mid-season.


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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The least-interesting upfront week ever: ABC and The CW

ABC and The CW announced their fall schedules today, and both tried to highlight stability, even as both were faced with situations where their audiences have trickled away during the strike or where they didn't have much of an audience to begin with. ABC had a very good fall, and they seem determined to have another very good fall, because pretty much all they did was cancel Big Shots and replace it with a remake of the awesome British series Life on Mars that sounds ... problematic. Life on Mars worked because it ran the perfect amount of episodes for such a slight mystery. An American remake (presumably open-ended) will be forced to do more tap-dancing around whether the hero is actually time traveling or not, and I'm not sure how long Jason O'Mara will be able to do that. Since I have a general affection for the original series, I'll give it a chance, but the fact that the October Road dudes are running it is going to be a problem.

I DO like that ABC will be waiting to see pilots before picking them up (presumably sometime this summer), instead of just picking up a bunch of stuff on a gut feeling like NBC did (and, lest we forget, they're doing something about friggin' teenage Merlin or something). Unfortunately, this plan relies too much on everyone being just dying to figure out what's been going on with the gangs from Pushing Daisies, Private Practice and Dirty Sexy Money, all of which return on Wednesdays, where they won't have been seen for 9-10 months come September (I had to sit here for a good long while before remembering what Daisies cliffhanger even WAS, and I put that show on my 2007 top ten list). (And you'll have to dig a bit at that link to find me, but I'm there, I swear.) The lineup did pretty well with the key demos, and it wasn't a total disaster, but it also wasn't the hugely rated night of television ABC probably hoped for. I think Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives can bounce back from ratings lows, but they're hugely loved series that people are familiar with. Who's going to take the time to figure out what's going on with the Darlings?

Then there's The CW, which is just nuts. Occasional ratings analyst Jon thinks they won't survive the decade, and I think that's a definite possibility, though I suspect they'll parlay their youth friendliness into a stint on basic cable or something. Anyway, they've gone all out on a remake of 90210 (pictured above) and the ever-foxy Lori Loughlin. They've also sold their Sunday nights out to an independent producer (that appears to be advertiser-backed). So there you go. As network television enters its twilight (and it's sort of useless to pretend it isn't doing so), it's going back to an economic model that worked in the earliest days of the medium.

Look below the jump for complete press release mumbo jumbo, and come back tomorrow to learn how CBS is betting big on comedy, the only genre to somewhat survive the strike (and finally surging again, apparently, just two years after I predicted it would!).


ABC:

MONDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars”
9:30 p.m. “Samantha Who?”
10:00 p.m. “Boston Legal”

TUESDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Opportunity Knocks” (NEW)
9:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars the Results Show”
10:00 p.m. “Eli Stone”

WEDNESDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Pushing Daisies”
9:00 p.m. “Private Practice”
10:00 p.m. “Dirty Sexy Money”

THURSDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Ugly Betty”
9:00 p.m. “Grey’s Anatomy”
10:00 p.m. “Life on Mars” (NEW)

FRIDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Wife Swap”
9:00 p.m. “Supernanny”
10:00 p.m. “20/20”

SATURDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Saturday Night College Football”

SUNDAY:
7:00 p.m. “America’s Funniest Home Videos”
8:00 p.m. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”
9:00 p.m. “Desperate Housewives”
10:00 p.m. “Brothers & Sisters”

Scrubs and Lost will return at midseason (Scrubs, obviously, moving from NBC). Mike Judge's new show, The Goode Family, will also be on at midseason.

The CW:

MONDAY
8:00-9:00 PM GOSSIP GIRL
9:00-10:00 PM ONE TREE HILL

TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM 90210 (New Series)
9:00-10:00 PM SURVIVING THE FILTHY RICH (New Series)

WEDNESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL
9:00-10:00 PM STYLISTA (New Series)

THURSDAY
8:00-9:00 PM SMALLVILLE
9:00-10:00 PM SUPERNATURAL

FRIDAY
8:00-8:30 PM EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS
8:30-9:00 PM THE GAME
9:00-10:00 PM AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL (Encore Presentation)

Reaper will be back at midseason.

And here are the titles of the Sunday night shows, according to the New York Times indispensible "TV Decoder" blog: “Surviving Suburbia,” “Book of Murphy,” “I.M. Valentine, Investigations” and “Fat City.” David and I, in particular, are looking forward to "I.M. Valentine, Investigations."

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Two weeks of Battlestar Galactica



(Hey, gang. Hopefully, I'll have some posts up this week. I'm coming up on a period when I should have more space to do some things, and we'll talk about the direction of this blog in the future at that time. -- ed.)

What is it about science fiction that makes it a genre uniquely qualified to concern itself with ideas and questions about the afterlife? There’s something about it that makes the metaphysical bullshit that a show like, say, CSI or even Mad Men wouldn’t be able to get away with somehow palatable and even understandable. When Tony Soprano spent an episode or two in something like Purgatory, a lot of fans complained (I loved it). But when Dana Scully spent an episode in the very same place, only in a far more blatantly symbolic version, it became a highlight of the run of The X-Files. Similarly, this latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, titled, simply enough, “Faith,” finds its strongest theme in ideas of what happens after we die—where we go and what the end is. In a series where one side of the conflict couldn’t truly die (until only recently), it is a surprisingly moving episode about the things we tell ourselves about the greater purpose and the end of things.
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Read the rest of the post here and click below the jump to read last week's recap.

I don’t know another way to say this, so I’m just gonna get it out there. Battlestar Galactica? You’re kinda givin’ me blue balls.

Now, obviously, this episode ("The Road Less Traveled"), written by Mark Verheiden and directed by Michael Rymer, is the first half of a two-parter, so you have to expect a certain amount of all-buildup, no-payoff (and the “next week on” made the next episode look like stuff is gonna start falling apart in a riveting fashion), but this is the second episode that has no real dramatic payoff. I’ve come to expect this in serialized television (where real payoffs rarely come outside of finales or, if you’re The Sopranos, penultimate episodes), and I generally don’t mind if the individual episodes have things in them that I enjoy, as all of this season’s BSG episodes—even this one—have. That’s one of the things you have to put up with if you’re going to enjoy serialized TV in broadcast, rather than on DVD. You have to put up with the long build-up, then the slow teasing out of the plot before things start coming together and you feel as though you’ve wisely or unwisely invested in the story. This is why I sort of suspect that, when we can inevitably download as many episodes of our favorite shows as we want at once, no one will voluntarily parcel these shows out at one-a-week.
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Read the rest here.

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