New TV season to start
Sick of reruns and reality? Me too. Ready for the new TV season to start? Me too. Wanna know what it’s going to look like? Me too.
I’m just back from the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles, where the networks and cable channels unveil their shows for the beginning of the TV season. But the writers’ strike pushed back production on many series, so instead of seeing pilot episodes, we mostly saw clips and scenes. (CBS was the only network to have its pilots ready.)
That makes it more difficult to recommend new shows. I can tell you, for example, that NBC’s “Kath and Kim,” based on the British comedy about an immature mother and her even-more-immature daughter, could be funny. It could just as easily be deadly.
“Life on Mars,” another show based on a British series, about a detective who gets into an accident in 2008 and wakes up in 1973, may end up being as good as the original. But it was being recast and the setting changed from Los Angeles to New York. So the pilot episode ABC made won’t be the pilot at all.
The presentation of the Fox reality series “Secret Millionaire” had me tearing up with its stories of real millionaires living surreptitiously among the downtrodden and then giving money to those who are deserving. But who knows if it’s more than just a nice idea? Or even when it will air?
But after sitting in air-conditioned ballrooms for two weeks, listening to actors, writers and producers talk about television, here’s what I could discern about the immediate future of television programming (and some other stuff):
• Series that debuted in 2007 with abbreviated seasons due to the writers’ strike won’t be starting over in 2008 — even those that have been off the air for nine months. They’ll give you a nice long “previously on …” beginning, but if they aired, say, 10 episodes last season — as ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” did — they’ll return this season with episode 11.
• Sitcoms continue to struggle. CBS’ “Worst Week,” about a guy for whom things continue to go horribly wrong (and, again, based on a British show), is atrocious. “Do Not Disturb,” a Fox workplace comedy set in a hotel, looks even worse.
• Under the heading of “please make it stop” comes “My Own Worst Enemy,” an NBC series about a mild-mannered cop who doesn’t know that he’s also a secret agent, and “Fringe,” J.J. Abrams’ attempt to combine “The X-Files” and “Altered States.” Where do they come up with this stuff? And more to the point, why?
• PBS presented a number of shows I’m looking forward to (and will tell you about in more detail in future columns). Best of those: an edition of “NOVA” called “Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives,” about the musician Mark Oliver Everett of the Eels, whose father developed the theory of parallel universes.
• On cable, I’m excited about: “Britz,” a BBC America four-hour mini-series about a Muslim brother and sister, one of whom becomes a terrorist; Sundance Channel’s “Spectacle: Costello with,” featuring Elvis Costello interviewing other musicians; and Starz’s “Crash,” a series based on the movie, but with all new characters.
• TV executives are keenly aware that appointment viewing is largely a thing of the past; now people watch TV on their own schedules — whether it’s on computers or iPods, on DVR, or even waiting for a full-season DVD box set to be released. So if ratings numbers appear to be down, it’s at least partly because TV is being consumed differently.
• Because ratings are harder to come by, networks are looking for different ways to make programming cost-effective. So the third season of “Friday Night Lights” will start on DirecTV before it airs on NBC (they’ll share the production costs) and The CW will rent out its Sunday night airtime to something called Media Rights Capital, which will produce programming to fill those hours. The MRC shows weren’t presented to critics.
• Finally, from the people who brought you the meaningless phrases “at the end of the day” and “to be honest with you” comes a new twist on an old word: fantastic. I heard at least a half-dozen actors, writers and producers pronounce the word “fintastic,” the way Arnold Schwarzenegger does. See if this doesn’t slip into our lexicon before long.