By Ray Flook
We live in "The TRUE Golden Age of Television."
(Giving everyone a second to relax and put their knives away before I explain…)
Let me start with a confession: when I use the word "television," I'm using it in a broad sense to include the U.S. standard broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and The CW); as well as Netflix's original programming, original programming on basic cable channels (AMC, TNT, etc.), original programming on premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.), and internet services (Amazon, HuluPlus, etc.). I know some may take issue with that definition, which is fine. I believe the meaning needs to be broadened as technologies increase and advance…but if someone wants to come-up with another word that works for me, I'm all ears.
So with that in mind, just think about the amount of quality programming that's out there right now through all of those platforms. With so many channels needing that much original programming, up-and-coming channels are willing to be more daring with what they'll broadcast because they're looking for that "one hot show" that can put them on the map. Nielsen ratings aren't the only numbers that matter any more; networks consider "DVR recordings," downloads, torrent downloads, "on-demand" viewings, etc. Simply put, a show with ratings that would normally get it canceled by mid-season on a major broadcast network now has a chance to grow and develop beyond "cult status" when you take those new numbers into account.
While this has been a boon to television viewers (especially fans of the super-hero/sci-fi/fantasy/horror/supernatural genres), it's made things much more difficult for the standard broadcast networks. They've been forced to "adapt or die" as they've watched their ratings and demographics drift away to other entertainment avenues. Taking a page from British television (though some would say they showed-up a little late), the networks have embraced the idea of thirteen-episode seasons to promote quality over quantity; running "limited series" to tell a complete story in a set amount of time; and extending the television season so that original programming premieres throughout the year, not just during one season (like the traditional fall start).
As for content…just consider how much airtime Marvel and DC properties are going to have between now and 2015. Again, with so many networks needing to fill a LOT of programming hours with shows that differentiate their network from the rest of the pack, you're starting to see greater opportunities for once-thought-impossible-to-televise projects like Preacher, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones to find homes, be successful and actually have networks competing over them. So the standard broadcast networks respond with Arrow (The CW), Hannibal (NBC), Scandal (ABC) and other shows which are considered "different" but are given time to grow and develop strong followings.
Which leads us to this week, when ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and The CW unveiled their new shows for the 2014/2015 season to the media; otherwise known as "up-fronts." What I wanted to do was take a look at the trailers/video previews for some of the shows that I think would be of interest to Bleeding Cool readers and see how good of a job they do at "selling" the show to loyal fan-bases as well as to the "average viewer"…and some thoughts about the shows themselves:
Going into this, my biggest concerns were that Matt Ryan's portrayal of "John Constantine" wouldn't be strong enough to wash away the "Keanu-stink" from my brain; and that the fact that the show is on NBC might result in storylines getting neutered as they transition from page to screen. Now? So far, so good. Ryan seems solid, and the look gives me the impression that the show will be more like Hannibal and less like Medium. As for NBC going with the title "Constantine" instead of "Hellblazer"…I'm not losing any sleep over it because I can see what their reasoning could be from a marketing standpoint (trouble selling a "hell" title???). As long as the stories are strong and the characters remain true to their nature, fans will be fine with subtle changes (especially since they acknowledge the DC connection in the trailer itself).
Okay. Heroes is returning. But what does that mean? How much of the old cast is returning? How connected will it be to the previous series? Teaser trailers usually work when there's this huge anticipation for what's being teased…not sure that's the case here. Not that a new series can't work…it's just that this trailer is really just "preaching to the converted"…and the "converted" began to jump-ship well before the show ended. A limited series could definitely work…just as long as NBC doesn't go crazy if it's successful and try to keep it on the air until it dies another slow, painful death.
Show Equation: House + Elementary + "Will Graham"/Hannibal = Backstrom
This is a "Franken-show," made-up of the parts of current and past shows. That's not always a bad thing, and many "Franken-shows" have had successful runs…and even though it looks to have a strong supporting cast, I have a feeling that the show's success or failure is going to rely almost 100% on what people think about this "version" of Rainn Wilson.
We can't get enough Batman in our lives. The fact that Batman & Robin (a movie George Clooney still apologizes for to this day) made profit is proof enough of that. Heck, I'd wager that Catwoman would've done better at the box office if they tied it closer to the "Bat-universe"…even if they kept everything else the same. Gotham (borrowing from various comic book storylines) is smart in that it takes a storyline most people know (Batman's origin) and tackles it from a perspective usually only glanced at in the movies: Gotham City's Jim Gordon and how his character grew during the time between the murder of The Waynes and the emergence of Batman. Casting looks spot-on and clearly FOX is throwing some money at this…but if the ratings/buzz aren't strong enough, will FOX push for "more Batman" and "less police work"? It's FOX, sooo…
Give me a second…still trying to process David Tennant's American accent…
Aside from that, this trailer does what a trailer should do (especially for mysteries such as these): give you a basic understanding of the story, introduce our players and show us scenes that build-up our interest without actually giving us a definitive idea of what's going to go on. I watched Broadchurch and I thought that it was incredible; and that's the same feeling I'm getting when I watch this trailer. And I'm sure the accent isn't THAT bad. It just sounds…odd…to a Doctor Who fan, that's all.
There was nothing about this trailer that made me want to watch this show, save for the possibility of some supernatural elements. It has the makings of being a soft-core STARZ action-drama, and seems to be NBC's entry in the "let's-make-time-period-dramas-like-Game-of-Thrones" sweepstakes already crowded by Vikings, Reign, etc. "Bland" would be the word I would use to describe the show based strictly on the trailer; but then again, who knows? It could end-up being another Sleepy Hollow…
The Last Man on Earth
This is the kind of show that's either going to end-up a beautiful disaster…or become that show that people either watch or lie about watching so they can be part of the conversation. Nothing flashy…no crazy edits or loud music…just about four minutes of Will Forte acting exactly how a person with the title "The Last Man on Earth" would act, and it works. If what we see here is exactly how the show is going to be (only focused on one person), then the uniqueness of the concept alone will get people to tune in. To STAY tuned-in is a different matter…
If FOX can maintain the realistic seriousness that comes through in the trailer, they have a chance to redefine the way people view their teen dramas. Unfortunately, considering FOX's past track record with how it handled other "different" shows, they don't get the benefit of the doubt on this one. One thing that does help its chances? The theme of "teens-in-real-life-crisis" is very popular in YA right now, evidenced by Hollywood's book rights-buying frenzy. Red-Band Society might just benefit from that trend…
Watch the first half of the trailer and you quickly understand why people were quick to compare it to Twin Peaks…myself included. But then it…changes. I didn't expect it to show as much as it did, but it also didn't spoil anything for me. The "what-the-!@#?" imagery, combined with a cast with some serious acting chops and the promise of an M. Knight Shyamalan comeback should get people tuning in early…but will they be patient enough to stay? And as for Shyamalan…if he's more in The Happening/After Earth zone here than a The Sixth Sense/Unbreakable/Signs zone, the show won't last a half-season.
I'm curious to see how much of a "mythology" they build around this show, or is the "immortality" concept going to be something that's nothing more than a background puzzle to be solved as they solve different crimes every week. Interesting that they have Ioan Gruffudd's "Doctor Henry Morgan" as a Sherlock Holmes-type, but with social skills; and that the "immortality" angle is basically the "vampire" angle from Angel and Forever Knight, without the vampire "rules" to restrict where they want to take the story. ABC needs it to be something more than just a "supernatural Castle."
This was my favorite. It's like someone put Monty Python, The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr., The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and every musical number from every Family Guy episode into a blender and came-up with Galavant. As much as I enjoyed the trailer, though…is this one of those concepts that's a one-season burnout? It has the parts necessary to be successful across-the-board demographically, but networks know it's a coin flip when you're talking a musical series in prime time.
Secrets and Lies
Looks like the 2014/2015 television season is going to be a good year for Juliette Lewis, who stars here and in FOX's Wayward Pines (and I'm sure some other things, too). Trailer looks interesting enough, but the story seems very similar to those we've seen recently in shows like The Killing and movies such as Gone Baby Gone. The trailer doesn't give you much to go on beyond the initial "did he/didn't he" scenario, so I'm assuming this is a limited series…hopefully eight episodes because even thirteen seems like it would be pushing it. Feels like a decent movie idea that someone thought would be a great television series so they fleshed it out a little more.
Three things they need to do for this show to survive:
(1) Change the name.
(2) Eliminate 98% of those screen "pop-ups."
(3) Apologize for ever naming the show "Selfie"
If they can take care of those matters early-on then this show actually has a chance of doing well. Karen Gillan and John Cho have sweet chemistry together, and the fact that each comes with a built-in fan base of their own doesn't hurt the show, either. The "My Fair Lady"-theme isn't anything new, but this take on it could have some long-term potential. But "Selfie"??? You're naming your show after a term people already hate…it's going to sound old and dated by the time the show airs. Maybe in some way that's what they're going for…
Where did THIS come from?
Wow…and here I thought it was going to be a more serious version of The Ghost Whisperer. This COULD be the replacement for Lost that ABC's been searching for, and I say that for only one reason: Lily Rabe. After watching her work over several seasons of American Horror Story, I'm glad to see that she's being given a chance to lead a series. While it looks like a show where you may get frustrated waiting for answers, it doesn't seem like it's going to lack in action or plot development. My "dark horse" pick of the group…
Well…any show that guarantees Robert Patrick and Ernie Hudson a paycheck can't be all bad.
Let me just say this: after watching that trailer, I can honestly say that Scorpion is exactly the type of computer-based, "cutting-edge" tech-action show I expected from the home of CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, etc. It's a "Snickers-show": it's not a real meal, but it does the job of satisfying your cravings between real meals.
I've made a lot of jokes in the past about the programming The CW has had on over the past several years, but I have to give them a ton of credit for how they've handled Arrow. They listened to what the fans had to say about the show…good and bad…and turned it from a weekly excuse to have Stephen Amell shirtless to a quality program that "borrows" from the DC Universe while still creating their own unique vision for the show. I get that same feeling about The Flash, except it looks like they're getting this one right from the very beginning. You can feel that it's connected to the Arrow "universe," but it's much lighter in tone. Not that the trailer doesn't show potential for dark and serious storylines, but the overall look and vibe of the show is different enough from Arrow for it to stand on its own.
So there you have it: a brief look at some of the shows coming your way in the next year from ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and The CW. As I mentioned earlier, there are still a number of shows on the way that haven't released trailers or previews yet (like The Messengers and Marvel's Agent Carter) but I think this gives you a pretty good idea of what's ahead so you can start keeping your scorecard now on which new show becomes the next The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. Or even better…start figuring-out which shows won't make "The DVR Cut" when the fall rolls around. Sorry Bates Motel…I hardly knew 'ya.
A "true golden age" indeed…