It’s time for networks to reshuffle their decks, deal themselves a new hand, and make a strong play for viewers: pilot season.
It’s fairly early in the process, as only two networks have announced lists of pickups, and all pickups are only for pilots or, in some cases, extra scripts. But as those two networks are NBC and ABC — perhaps the two networks with the most to gain from a good pilot season and the most to lose from a bad one — there’s no time like the present to handicap their chances and give an early diagnosis of potential problems.
NBC has a host of issues to fix, including fatiguing scheduling of their reality shows, like “The Biggest Loser,” and avoiding the kind of big-budget flop that they ended up with in “The Event.” And while NBC has built a strong comedy block Thursdays, weak links “Perfect Couples” and “Outsourced” may need to be replaced once summer hits.
From the looks of its pilot orders, NBC’s strategy is to go big or go home. Drama pilot orders range from buzzy reboots (David E. Kelley’s “Wonder Woman” and a redo of UK miniseries “Prime Suspect”), to intriguing sci-fi/fantasy worlds (“Battlestar Galactica” creator Ron Moore’s “17th Precinct” and the gritty fairy tales-come-alive cop drama “Grimm”), to shows that sound suspiciously like “Glee” (“Smash,” about the makings of a Broadway musical, starring Debra Messing).
Clearly, NBC is not going to shy away from high-concept dramas. Hell, they picked up a new show from “Lone Star” creator Kyle Killen (“REM”) that practically references “Inception” in the logline. These are all exciting, but without a high level of execution, they could all fizzle quickly.
On the comedy side of things, there are some seemingly fresh takes on the genre, like “Brave New World,” which deals with a group of coworkers at a Pilgrim-themed amusement park. As with most years in comedy, it’s difficult to get too excited without casting news to go along with it. But some premises do show potential, and I think we can all hope for a consistently solid Thursday comedy block from NBC.
ABC, meanwhile, has actually fallen behind NBC in terms of overall viewership on the aging shoulders of its mid-aughts giants. “Desperate Housewives,” “Brothers and Sisters” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are all moderately successful, but they’re aging and expensive, and ABC hasn’t been able to cultivate a hit drama at all in recent years. Their latest hit has been “Modern Family” on the comedy side.
Unsurprisingly then, their comedy roster is heavy on shows that deal with new takes on the nuclear family, but most fail to stand out. The exception could be “Suburgatory,” described as a satirical look at the suburbs which uses cinematic cues from horror films to underscore its themes. Naturally, this could be awful in execution, but if it makes it to series, I could be intrigued.
In drama land, the network clearly wants to find a soapy new drama to take the place of its aging hits. Soaps about the lives of pilots and stewardesses (“Pan Am”), Washington interns (“Georgetown,” from the producers of “Gossip Girl”) and a Darren Star-written soap called “Good Christian Bitches” about a high school mean girl who returns to Dallas after her divorce, could all fit into a Sunday slot behind “Desperate Housewives.” Elsewhere, things are all over the map. A “Charlie’s Angels” reboot seems likely, while period murder mystery series “Poe” and found-footage style thriller “The River” (from producers of the “Paranormal Activity” films) seem so preposterous for network TV that I can’t help but want to see them.
As we move into summer and inexorably toward a new fall slate of programming, we will hopefully hear more about these shows and see if NBC and ABC can turn their fortunes around.
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