overthinking the idiot box

May 18th, 2005

For the television afficionado, the Upfronts are more than just a sneak peek at the fall schedules for every network — they offer the observant a chance to better understand what the network thinks America wants to watch. What exactly that is? Leave it to SMRT-TV to tell you.

special feature
The Fall 2005 Upfronts: SMRT-TV Staff Discusses

The WB
Fox and UPN

Prior to the announcement...

I have to be honest, the only things I watch on ABC are Lost and Alias. The first because it's like crack and the second because I need to be able to scream at the TV on a weekly basis. Actually, Alias has been kind of fun this season, but I'm fairly certain that it's just hanging in there because of the lead-in that Lost offers it.

ABC doesn't seem to be leaning on the reality crutch either, which is kind of reassuring, although there's another Bachelor coming up as well as the Extreme Makeovers, Wife Swaps and Nannies. If ABC is to be believed, everyone is waiting for someone to come into their houses and tell 'em what they're doing wrong with their faces, families and furniture.

ABC has obviously been the biggest cock in the hen-house this TV season. They had two of the biggest water-cooler conversation pieces in Lost and Desperate Housewives AND they had them in the same year. That's practically unheard of. Those two shows coupled with the fact that they can extremely makeover practically anything and still get ratings makes them, in my opinion, the one network to really watch in terms of their direction next season. Will they lie back on their asses and revel in their newfound Mentos-like freshness or will they continue to break boundaries and entertain?

As for "ABC not really relying on the reality crutch," that's debatable. They're not quite FOX , where they have midgets fighting bears for a chance at a makeover for their nanny but they're also not quite innocent as (ummmm...I just spent 5 minutes right there thinking of a network without a reality show).

The key to ABC's success is "keeping the up the front" of being young and hip. The network's recent renaissance reminds me of FOX in its early years. It was full of shows that really didn't fit a mold previously established by other networks. They were fresh, likable and the exact kind of shows you wanted to tell your BFF about on the phone. ABC has that and they need to stick to it, especially when rolling out their new shows.

The ABC Schedule is Released

I think ABC is running with their new status, possibly in interesting directions as far as new dramas go, which is exciting for those of us who'd rather get hit with a brick than watch anything get swapped. A remake of Kolchak: The Night Stalker - beloved show of Chris Carter of The X-Files and helmed by two ex-X-Filers: Executive Producer/Writer: Frank Spotnitz ("The X Files") and Executive Producer/Director: Daniel Sackheim ("The X Files"). Invasion, by Shaun Cassidy (American Gothic) and Thomas Schlamme (West Wing), sounds intriguing - sort of like Twin Peaks does X-Files. I guess it's all coming full circle in TV land.

The first word that comes to mind when I look at this new schedule is WHOA. I guess ABC really did take the "go-balls out approach." They have a bucket-load of new product coming down the pike (5 new comedies, 6 new dramas and an "alternative series," which is by far the most interesting new synonym for a reality show ever) AND they've gone and mix-and-matched some of the best shows that helped the network produce the largest season-to-season growth in the highly-touted 18-49 demographic (thank you ABC press release).

Madam President, in a simpler time.
I admit that, yes, The Night Stalker and Invasion jump out as the most interesting new entries. They sound edgy and out-of-the-box for ABC, which is exactly the direction they should take. On the other hand, shows like Freddie and Commander-In-Chief make me cringe just at the thought of them. Freddie Prinze in an intentional comedy? Geena Davis as a female president but it's a drama? My only hope is that my initial reactions are wrong because I am man enough to admit I enjoyed She's All That and, yes, Earth Girls Are Easy.

My biggest concern lies in the shuffling of one of my favorite shows, Alias. Why did you have to do this, ABC? I don't see how J.J. Abrams can be remotely happy about this. The Wednesday twosome of Lost and Alias was ideal and convenient. Both series share the same rabid core of fans. Now, ABC has decided to throw the possibly pregnant Sydney Bristow to the wolves of 8:00 Thursday night? My fingers are crossed but extremely stressed.

ABC is offering "CSI with a Twist": Evidence with Orlando Jones, and "Law and Order with A Twist": In Justice, which at least will bring Kyle MacLaughlin back to my TV.
Agreed about the potential shuffle with Alias, although it also looks like J.J. Abrams is going to be busy helming Lost, Alias and the midseason replacement comedy What About Brian. JJ's efforts when multi-directed tend to go even further off the rails than the normal giddy chaos, if one looks to Alias' third season when Abrams was busy getting the pilot of Lost ready to go. Some of the midseason replacements look like twists on the typical as well, but then, twists tend to be pitches based on the "Blank with a twist" idea. In addition to bringing back Jake in Progress midseason (and was that always just half an hour?) ABC is offering "CSI with a Twist": Evidence with Orlando Jones, and "Law and Order with A Twist": In Justice, which at least will bring Kyle MacLaughlin back to my TV.

I'm less than impressed with the comedy lineup, midseason and full season, all of which seem to be variations of "Let's put these wacky, waspy, men, women, Freddie Prinze Jrs, crazy mothers, etc. together and watch what happens."

And I agree, the term alternative series is the greatest ever misnomer for reality TV, although I have to admit that Miracle Workers sounds somewhat intriguing - a show about medical professionals tackling strange, exciting diseases. But dude, if one of them gets ebola or necrotizing fascitis, I am so bailing!

Yep, we might as well wave goodbye to J.J. Abrams being the showrunner we're used to him being. He'll be having his foot-soldiers do a lot of the work on his three series this fall because of his directorial duties on Mission Impossible 3. Tom Cruise seems like the kind of guy who will demand his attention.

And it's clear that nothing can be original these days. There's been so many ideas and so many shows and so many pitches that everything's a twist on something before it. As for Jake in Progress, after watching the first episode of that, I think ABC should have been more merciful and cut it down even more. John Stamos would make for a great commercial pitchman.

I have to admit that I was kinda excited when I first saw the title, The Miracle Workers. OMG, they're putting a bunch of little blind girls on an island without a map. Glorious!
I have to admit that I was kinda excited when I first saw the title, The Miracle Workers. OMG, they're putting a bunch of little blind girls on an island without a map. Glorious! But, unfortunately, this particular Miracle has nothing to do with the original Helen Keller play/movie. Which is sad.

Overall, I'm relatively happy with ABC's fall season and direction the network is taking. While I would have loved to have seen that J.J. Abrams bounty hunter show I've been hearing about for so long, at least they're branching out into less of the old-ABC genre of shows. They also didn't pull a CBS and immediately come out with spinoffs like Desperate Housewives: West Virginia or Lost-er. Now if they could just figure out some way to recreate the dominating TGIF of yesterday (circa Full House and Family Matters), they'll be all set.

I think ABC has a decent shot at holding on to their king of the hill crown for another season, but I have no sense of the longevity of either Desperate Housewives or Lost, and we see so many shows with interesting premises come and go that it's unsurprising that last years hits were a riff on a reality concept and a not all that subversive soap. I hope the renewed success of drama keeps the interesting stuff around, and the sitcoms far from my door, but in the current era of the 90 second attention span, I'm afraid to hope for too much. Middle America is ready for hot housewives, but is it really ready for alien invasions?

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