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!


The NBC fall schedule seems to be all about football, football, FOOTBALL, as if now that Will & Grace is finally gone they can go back to being men's men over on the peacock channel. No more West Wing or Vincent D'Onofrio on Sunday nights, just four hours of football. And the manly magic doesn't end there!

Watch out as Tina Fey and Aaron Sorkin duke it out on the same network in shows with strikingly similar premises and finally, a Thursday night that might get people to tune in all night again.


8:00: Deal or No Deal? I'm hoping this show burns itself out a la Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? but, frankly, that's mostly because Howie Mandel kind of freaks me out. Then again, I'm also totally not this show's demographic. I like my game shows to involve a bit of intellectual acumen. From what I can gather, all you need to do to be a contestant on this show is gesture towards pretty girls holding briefcases. Not really on the same level as Jeopardy, you know? (Not really on the same level as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? either, since contestants had to know a few things in order to advance.) And yet, twice a week this show airs. No Scrubs, but two episodes of this a week? Really? Why on Earth is this show popular? Is it the girls with the briefcases?

9:00: Heroes: This is a new drama that, according to the NBC press release, "chronicles the lives of ordinary people who discover they possess extraordinary abilities." Um, yeah. If Dr. Doom shows up, I'm going to be very upset. It's brought to us from the same people who brought us Crossing Jordan and seems to have a fairly large cast (Milo Ventimiglia and Ali Larter among them). I suspect it'll either be a train wreck or an awesome show, but I'd bet on the former.

10:00: Medium: I've never seen the show, but my mom watches it regularly (which I would say says something... but she also watches Charmed, so... grain of salt) and I gather from the promos this season that Kelsey Grammer played the Angel of Death, and I think that's kind of awesome.

8:00: Friday Night Lights: New drama based on the movie of the same name. So, FOOTBALL! The show is set in Dallas and revolves around the local high school football team, made up of a cast of kids you've never heard of. I think the show has potential, though — the producers have also had their hands in some other excellent TV — but I'm kind of a sucker for teen dramas.

9:00: Kidnapped: NBC describes the premise of this new thriller as "the teenaged son of a wealthy Upper East Side family is kidnapped and everyone is a suspect." This seems to be a theme this season (see also Vanished staring the delicious Gale Harold on Fox) just like sci-fi shows were all the rage last year, and it also seems to be picking up on the season-long arc done so well on 24 and Veronica Mars. Speaking of which, I already know where I'll be on Tuesdays at 9, but Kidnapped has an impressive cast: Jeremy Sisto (who will always be Elton in Clueless to me), Delroy Lindo, Mykelti Williamson, and others.

10:00: Law & Order: SVU: I'm a shameless L&O fanatic, and SVU is the best of the bunch, but there's no question that it would return. This past season seemed to be all about Emmy bait, but that doesn't mean Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni don't deserve piles of statues. Just maybe... Dick Wolf could be a little less obvious about it, please?


8:00: The Biggest Loser: Never seen it. Never plan to. Though, it is worth noting that Loser is the only reality show on NBC's fall schedule (Deal or No Deal is more game show/dangling-shiny-things-at-retarded-kitties than reality show). After over-scheduling The Apprentice last year (hint, hint Deal or No Deal), the Peacock has shunted its LA-based sixth installment off to midseason. Personally, I can't wait. Ego and Los Angeles go together like "Deal" and "No Deal." By the way, whatever happened to Thick and Thin?

After years of attempting to carve out a comedy block on Tuesday nights, NBC retreats to Wednesday with their laughs. This could be smart counter-programming, given that 20 and 30 will be the only "comedies" on the night until George Lopez, According to Jim and The Loop return midseason. Curiously, though, NBC's left two freshman series to prop one another up rather than pairing them with more established hits.

9:00: 20 Good Years: Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow. So, uh, I guess this means Showtime's definitely not picking up 3rd Rock From the Sun? This sexagenarian farce has the potential to be different from pretty much every other sitcom on TV right now. It's amazing that the networks have so far ignored the success of Golden Girls reruns on Lifetime and continue to think that 18-34 year-olds won't watch old people being funny. Now let's hope 20 Good Years is actually, you know, funny.

9:30: 30 Rock: If there's one thing NBC loves more than football this year, it's navel-gazing behind-the-scenes series about SNL-like sketch shows named for their studio locations. Which sounds like a good strategy for pulling themselves out of the ratings-cellar considering the massive audiences who tuned into such "inside baseball" hits as The Comeback, The Larry Sanders Show, Sports Night and Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central) (ironically 30 Rock's timeslot). Myopia aside, 30 Rock is one of my two most eagerly anticipated shows of the fall. And not just because Tina Fey is my secret girlfriend. Okay, mostly because Tina Fey is my secret girlfriend. But also because Alec Baldwin can be a comic superstar with the right material.

10:00: Law & Order: It's nice to know that if someone from 1992 time-traveled to the future, there would be at least some consistency in their life. The cast may change (and will change, since ADA Borgia got whacked) but the timeslot remains the same.


8:00: My Name Is Earl / The Office: The only two returning NBC shows I'll be watching (at least until they bring Scrubs and The Apprentice out of hibernation). I have to give the brass credit for standing by The Office despite its dismal first-season ratings and helping it blossom in its second season into the best half-hour comedy currently on TV (R.I.P. Arrested Development). Still, I'd thought the network would attempt to recreate their old (winning) Must See strategy by splitting Office and Earl up, at 8:00 and 9:00 respectively, and using them to launch new comedies on the half-hour. Oh well.

9:00: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The other navel-gazing behind-the-scenes series about an SNL-like sketch show named for its studio location and my other most eagerly anticipated show of the fall. Love the monster cast (Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson, Nate Corddry and Timothy Busfield to start with), love the behind-the-behind-the-scenes reunion of Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, love the concept. Not sure I love the timeslot. Like I noted above, I'm a hopeless nostalgic who longs for the days of a two-hour block of sit-coms on Thursday night. Plus, I'm worried about this potentially great show being thrown to the wolves in TV's toughest timeslot — even more today than I was when NBC announced their schedule on Monday. Now, instead of just facing the CSI juggernaut, Studio 60 has to contend with Grey's Anatomy and the lower-rated — though not without their loyal fans — The O.C. and Supernatural. With all those established dramas battling it out, there's not a lot of room for a newbie to breakout. Already, rumors are flying that NBC could move Studio 60 out of the crossfire before September to protect the crown jewel of their development season. However, part of the problem with being so down and out is that NBC doesn't really own any prime real estate for birthing a show out of harm's way.

10:00: ER: Rumors of the stalwart's move were greatly exaggerated. Instead of permanently relinquishing the timeslot its held for 12 seasons (as had been widely reported prior to the upfronts), ER will merely cede the once-cushy slot temporarily to The Black Donnellys at midseason. Seeing as how the new show comes from the Oscar-winning pens of Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (Crash), it's safe to assume the series revolves around an Irish-African-American family that sits around drinking a lot and talking about how racist it is that people assume they're going to carjack them, just before they carjack people. Oh, and they'll probably eat plenty of Lucky Charms, potatoes, and watermelon in between on-the-nose dialogue.

Friday and Saturday
Wait, there's a Fri-day and a Satur-day? That's news to me! And apparently NBC. On Friday, Las Vegas returns, sandwiched between installments of the Peacock's two schedule-hogging franchises, Deal or No Deal and Law & Order. Yawn.

Then on Saturday, their once schedule-hogging franchise Dateline is banished to just one hour a week (at its "height," it aired four times a week). No word yet if they plan to permanently change the name of the series to "To Catch a Predator," though I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Chris Hansen's grilling of online perverts is quite possibly the most endlessly entertaining thing on television. I could watch that four times a week!

So there you have it. Lots of football, lots of manly men doing manly things, lots of dramas, lots of faux SNL-like sketch shows, lots of Law & Order and lots of girls with briefcases. If that's not a recipe for network-resuscitation, then, well... it's not.

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