Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Get Ready To Program Your Tivo - Part 1
The Network Upfronts In A Nutshell

Well folks, it's a busy time at work. The upfronts, which take place this week, are the New York City presentations where the broadcast networks unveil their fall schedules, mainly for the ad buyers, to whom they try to pre-sell advertising "up front," on the basis of what the networks annually promise will be the greatest season of public entertainment the world has known since the days of Vaudeville. Held in venues like Radio City Music Hall, the presentations involve elaborate stage presentations, comedy bits and star walk-ons — it's somewhere between an awards show and an car dealers' regional sales meeting. They're followed by cocktail parties where the networks pimp out their celebs to mingle among laundry-detergent marketing directors and managers of affiliate stations, earning goodwill among semi-bigwigs who get to go home with a photo of themselves standing with Michael Caruso in that typical CSI: Miami pose.

For you and I, however, upfronts are our first glimpse at the new shows and emerging trends of next fall's schedule. Still facing the possibility of an actors' strike by fall, the networks may have to keep backup schedules of shows under wraps. This week, I will endure the upfronts for you — the stress, the speeches, the little chicken taquitos, and give you the rundown on what fresh crap the networks have in store for us, complete with entirely unfair and probably incorrect opinions based on the few minutes of selected clips the networks screen for the crowd.

The upfronts are held all this week and I'll have updates on the other networks as they happen. So far, NBC & ABC have presented their shows, and CBS, CW & Fox are coming up. So get ready to program your Tivo's Season Pass Manager cause here's the excitement of what's in store for you for the Fall 2007 season on NBC and ABC!

One of the most interesting things to note isn’t in that grid: NBC-Universal will have USA Network air new episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent before they air on NBC (CI is not currently on the network schedule, but it will appear… eventually). This won’t help the ratings on the broadcast network, but may help USA (ah, the brave new world of massive, behemoth, ridiculously huge media corporations).

Scrubs is back for, allegedly, the final season - thank god! Friday Night Lights is too (they’re not saying it’s the final season, the ratings are). Maybe NBC is trying to be a niche network, not a broadcast one, after all, they’re airing 30 new half-hours of The Office, which I can't stomach and doesn’t do all that well in the ratings They argue they’re going for quality shows, but that’s out as they are still airing Deal or No Deal and 1 vs. 100).

NBC announced several new shows today, including: Bionic Woman, Chuck, Journeyman, The IT Crowd, Lipstick Jungle, and Life. I will reserving judgment on the shows until I see them (cause that’s the right thing to do), but what follows is a brief taste on what these pieces of mindless entertainment are actually about.

Bionic Woman, though it seems like an odd choice, is part of the new Battlestar Galactica, which is a wonderful update. Keeping in the sci-fi realm, Journeyman is about a newspaper reporter who can travel through time and Chuck focuses on a tech-support guy who manages to download server containing spy information directly to his brain. Then there’s The IT Crowd, a mid-season comedy replacement focusing on IT types (and geeks like me) and imported from England (where else?).

Life is a different kind of cop show (never heard that one before, have you?) where the cop in question just got out of prison. Speaking of “different kind” of shows, there’s Lipstick Jungle, a Sex in the City-esque thing from Sex in the City creator Candace Bushnell. It’s the same, but it’s different, it’s updated, and it’s based on her novel Lipstick Jungle, not Sex in the City.

NBC is also initiating a “Game Night” on Fridays, with a rotation of various game shows in the 8pm hour, before heading into Las Vegas at 9 (the city being all about games) and Friday Night Lights at 10 (football being another game). For those of you that don’t know this yet, Thomas Magnum has signed on as a new star (James Caan is out after the premiere).

And, it should be noted that ER is coming back… again. Hasn't this freakin' show run it's course? Kill it please. Do not resusitate! Now if they can only have a nuclear explosion they’d really have something.

There’s certainly lots of new, different, and weird taking place on NBC this fall. Their big focus is on interactive TV and their new web based outlet NBC2GO. Will we get tired of this stuff. Probably!

ABC is not poised to change this around for next season, as they are completely forgoing any sort of comedy block. At the opening of the fall season, ABC will have three comedy series on TV, all of them brand new. According to Jim is gone, George Lopez is gone, Knights of Prosperity is gone. Oddly, on of the show's I like but critics hate, Notes from the Underbelly will be back once Dancing with the Stars completes its run.

They have three new comedies: Sam I Am, Cavemen, and Carpoolers.

Sam I Am focuses on Sam (Christina Applegate), a woman who has just emerged from an eight-day coma with amnesia. She discovers that she wasn’t actually a very good person and tries to change that now. Having trouble figuring that one out? It’s easy, just think My Name is Earl, substitute Sam for Earl, a coma for a car accident, and amnesia for karma. See? Simple.

Carpoolers has a bunch of men, all at different points in their lives. There’s the recently divorced playboy guy; the timid homemaker/breadwinner guy; the newlywed guy, the traditional, old-school guy. They commute to and from work together and discuss their lives.

Then, there’s Cavemen. This is completely serious: Cavemen is a show inspired by the Geico insurance caveman commercials. They live in the South in the present day, but are cavemen. They just want to be treated like everyone else, but they keep getting singled out because…well..they’re cavemen. One hopes that ABC has taken into account the history of racism in this country in general and the South in particular and that they will deal with these outsiders who are treated differently with some degree of tact.

As for the dramas, as we all know by now, Private Practice is the spin-off of Grey’s Anatomy (the backdoor pilot aired as a special Grey’s two hour event a couple of weeks ago).

Pushing Daisies focuses on a detective who can touch people and bring them back from the dead. He’s done this with his dead girlfriend, but if he touches her again she’ll die… forever. It’s a new kind of procedural show.

In the more traditional procedural vein is Women’s Murder Club, which has four high-powered women at its center: a detective, a D.A., a medical examiner, and a reporter. They are friends and solve crimes together, each using their unique talents.

Because four seems like the right number of people to center a show on, Big Shots focuses on four male friends who are, corporately speaking, big shots, running companies, making deals, you know, that sort of thing. Women, as the audience will see, they’re not necessarily so good with.

Lastly on the schedule for the fall is Dirty Sexy Money. The show focuses on a lawyer who steps into his father’s role as personal attorney for a high-powered family. He’s able to do good with the money he makes, but is drawn into their web of lives, deceits, and semi-nefarious goings-on.

Appearing at some point down the line on ABC’s schedule will be Cashmere Mafia, which is the other Sex and the City a few years down the line. This show should not be confused with NBC’s Lipstick Jungle, from Candace Bushnell who wrote Sex and the City.

Of course, there are other series set to go on down the line too...even an Oprah series called Oprah’s Big Give, which should make Oprah fans giggle with glee!

Dharma-philes will note that Lost is not listed above. It’ll appear though, there’ll be 16 episodes this coming season, but they’re going to hold them until they can do all 16 back-to-back (24 style).

Well, that's it for ABC and NBC. I am so excited that I'm going to pee my pants. I just hope I've got enough space on my Tivo and that my Blackberry is ready for all this! The rest is yet to come!