overthinking the idiot box

May 22, 2006

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.

SMRT-TV Goes to the Upfronts!


Because seriously, after watching our favorite intern nearly kill a patient and then quit, or our least favorite resident call his ex girlfriend a whore, who's going to want to watch a helicopter fall on a character we don't care about?
Gabi: The first thing that registered with me when I read ABC's press release was the fact that they moved my beloved Grey's Anatomy to Thursdays. Thursdays? What will I do on Sundays now? I understand that it's a hit in its own right, and they no longer need the Desperate Housewives lead in to gain an audience, but this move poses serious VCR/Tivo problems for me, what with Studio 60 in the same time slot, and ER always starting one minute early. Seriously, though, it might have been really smart of ABC to try to steal the dying ER's thunder by putting their much better, much soapier, much fresher medical show on right before it. Because seriously, after watching our favorite intern nearly kill a patient and then quit, or our least favorite resident call his ex girlfriend a whore, who's going to want to watch a helicopter fall on a character we don't care about?

Andreanna: Agreed. If they're going to compete, why not try to compete directly, and in the same demographic? Plus, fond as I am of Grey's Anatomy, unless Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 is a total dud, I'll be tuning in to NBC during the 9:00 p.m. hour anyway.

Gabi: My VCR will be, that's for sure. On the drama side, Six Degrees sounds the most promising. Not surprisingly, it's JJ Abrams' new contribution to the upcoming season. I'm always a sucker for those movies that explore how a whole bunch of different characters' lives are intertwined, and here, JJ has the chance to do it for 22 or more episodes. The cast is solid, with Jay Hernandez, Hope Davis and Erika Christensen, among others. It'll be interested to see whether he goes the fuzzy, relationship-y route of Felicity and What About Brian, or if he's up to his Lost and Alias style of violence and mysteries once again. It's time slot, Thursdays at 10, should work well for it — with Grey's Anatomy as a lead in, and competing against ER and well, not much else. The only thing that concerns me is that with all of the "character exploration," the show could end up looking a whole lot like Lost, with the flashbacks and whatnot.

Andreanna: JJ's spent his party tricks, and sadly I no longer care, although it is a great cast. But Six Degrees demonstrates what I think is the biggest problem in ABC's fall line up — far too many high concept shows that are going to have problems maintaining their momentum. Big Day, Day Break, Let's Rob..., The Nine — all of these shows rely upon a specific format, a specific trope that will have to repeat and be reused in some way during the hour of the show. Big Day is apparently "24 gets married," Day Break is Groundhog Day meets bank heist (and Rob Bowman for shame!! Your very own The X-Files used that as a one off episode, and do you really think Taye Diggs is going to be enough of a draw to pull this off for an entire season?), Let's Rob... is a comedy about trying to rob Mick Jagger. Dude, have they not heard of Napster? And The Nine is a fallout hostage drama that will unveil 10 minutes of the hostage situation every week. I don't think that viewers are willing to invest that much energy in shows that rely so heavily on form, possibly at the expense of function.

Gabi: I totally agree about the deluge of high concept shows, especially all on the same network. They're all going to start to look the same, and after a few episodes, I suspect viewers may not even be able to keep them apart. ABC's franchise of convoluted plots is going to start to look like CBS' franchise of CSI and its rip-offs. Someone ought to tell JJ and his cronies that you can just as easily explore characters without putting them in highly unlikely, only-on-television situations. Hopefully Six Degrees will go the more grounded, realistic route, thus setting it apart from the crowd, though I don't entirely trust JJ to do that.

On the comedy side, as usual, there's not much to speak of. According to Jim and George Lopez are the only relics of the traditional sitcom genre that managed to stick around, and that's not saying much. Even Less Than Perfect, which has held on by a shoestring the last season or two, is gone for good. Betty the Ugly looks interesting at least, if only because Salma Hayek has been trying to get this project, which is based on a Colombian telenovela, off the ground for years. America Ferrera is always charming, but the show could go the way of Emily's Reasons Why Not and fall flat. I always enjoy a good female-led rom-com, but this seems dangerously close to being another Bridget Jones-esque character.

Andreanna: Betty the Ugly has, in theory, a lot of potential, and certainly sounds more potentially charming than Men in Trees (because I for one have a hell of a time buying Anne Heche as a relationship guru).

Gabi: As a director once told Joey on Friends, I have trouble buying Anne Heche as a human being.

Andreanna: If I want charm in Alaska, I'll buy the Northern Exposure DVD's. ABC also offers Ted Danson yet another run at sitcom stardom with Help Me Help You, a comedy about group therapy because lord knows emotional pain is hi-larious.

Gabi: As is Ted Danson.

The show's got a mixed cast though — I can't see myself tuning in for the pleasure of seeing both David Arquette and Lori Laughlin.
Andreanna: The other new sitcom, In Case of Emergency, is produced by Jon Favreau, which I'd like to say bodes well. It's again fairly high concept — Who do you put down on the "in case of emergency" line? and that's worked very well for NBC's My Name is Earl. The show's got a mixed cast though — I can't see myself tuning in for the pleasure of seeing both David Arquette and Lori Laughlin.

Gabi: Those are two names that probably shouldn't share the same space on a TV screen. Remember when sitcom concepts read something like, "Six best friends hang out at a coffee shop a lot?" Those were the days.

Overall, I think the schedule looks pretty solid, but the old standbys definitely have a major leg up on their new counterparts. There are almost no time slots that look like murder for the show, and I think it will be interesting to see how well the new stuff fares.

Andreanna: The schedule has potential, and it is nice to see ABC taking some risks, even if I think those risks all feel a little too similar. They've got a new Bachelor as well - Prince Lorenzo Borghese — and I'll be curious if there's still an audience for this, as well as a few new game shows to throw in when one of their high concept dramas tank.

Overall, the themes I see surfacing are ones of connection and memory, which is interesting in the face of last year's focus on conspiracy and fantasy (although not so much with ABC). It seems to me that while last year's schedule reflected our belief that the government was hiding things from us, this year's proves it, and proves that we're all isolated in our own little spaces, trying to find a way to connect. Now, if only the shows themselves can offer up that much promise.

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